§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
We desire to take the opportunity, on the Second Reading of this Bill, to raise the question of the distress in the mining areas of the country. In the remarks that I address to the House I propose to confine myself to South Wales, not because South Wales is the only area where there is distress to which the attention of the House ought to be drawn, but, first of all, because I have seen with my own eyes a considerable amount of the distress in that area, and, secondly, because I have received from very confidential and reliable Friends reports as to what is going on there. I am also in the position of being one of the Members for South Wales, and in common with my colleagues I have been simply inundated with appeals for financial and other support in order to tide the district over its difficulties.
Since we put a Resolution on the Paper on this subject, the Government have sent a Committee into South Wales to report on what can be done. My first complaint is this: The Government are always far too late before they take steps to meet apparent distress. I am not one of those who believe that it is the Government's duty or any Government's duty to be flying about all over the country like Don Quixote, looking out for something to do and some person or some district to rescue. But there is no doubt whatever that for months the situation in the mining area has been so bad, and it is so evident that that situation was going to worsen, that really the Government have been guilty of very great neglect in not anticipating it and in not acting before now, more particularly so because, as usual, whenever we have distress like this the first victims, and the victims who have to bear the heaviest burden of the distress, are the weak and the young.
826 To-day I propose to draw partly upon my own knowledge and experience, but mainly on a report that has been compiled by two hon. Friends of mine who went down to South Wales to gather information that could be regarded by us as authoritative. My hon. Friend the late Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Rhys Davies) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) went down to South Wales and compiled this report. I ask the House to be aware of the nature of the report, first how well the report is done, and, secondly, what a serious situation is revealed in its descriptive paragraphs. My hon. Friends visited both Glamorgan and Monmouth. They paid special attention to the three areas in Monmouth and Glamorgan—Bedwellty, Pontypridd and Neath. In the course of the investigations they saw clerks of the councils, education officers, medical officers of health, ministers of religion, members of boards of guardians, miners' agents; secretaries of various organisations, political, industrial and philanthropic; and they also visited the elementary schools and the juvenile training centres, and took the views of headmasters, headmistresses and teachers.
What did they find? There were districts in which, if hon. Members had visited them three or four years ago, they would have found the pits going, the men working, and everything that symbolised business, industry, and trade. In one of those districts, the Western Valley, stretching 21 miles from Newport, my hon. Friends found that, whereas as recently as 1921 that valley was a great coal-mining centre, full of activity, the valley was now almost silent, people walking about the streets with nothing to do, living on their savings, and practically all signs of trade died out. In Blaina, for instance, the state of the industry now is that all the main pits have been closed and only one level, employing 200 men, is working. With this solitary exception of the employment of 200 men, there is nothing whatever going on in the district. In Abertillery half the pits and levels are still working, and there is a tinplate industry as well. But even then the place is assuming more and more the air and aspect of a derelict population. The distress is particularly evident amongst school children. My 827 hon. Friends were informed by school authorities and by the medical officer of Abertillery that the children attending school were suffering from a lack of clothing and have "lost grip"—those were their own words. Moreover, the average weight of the girls shows a distinct falling off at all ages. The proportion of non-attendance is increasing. It was 6 per cent. in the winter of 1926–27; it was 9 per cent. in the winter of 1927–28, in spite of the fact that in the winter of 1927–28 a special inducement, in the shape of school meals, was being given to children to attend school. In Blaina, a recent examination shows that many of the children were found by the medical officers to be sub-normal on account of lack of nourishment.
That really is a very serious situation to face. When I come to specific needs, my hon. Friends' report, and, I am sorry to say my own correspondence, make me too painfully aware that there is a most distressing shortage in boots, stockings, and other clothing for school children. It is not often that I thank the right hon. Gentleman who is Minister of Education, but I do want to thank him, on behalf of colleagues of mine in South Wales as well as myself, for the very generous and very kindly way in which he has put sums of money at his disposal into those districts, to enable our school children to go to school with good boots. We are exceedingly grateful to him for what he has done in that respect. But, still, this House must not assume that that has satisfied the situation, because it has not. One of the things I would like to press on the Minister of Health is that the Commissioners whom he has appointed, and who are now responsible for the administration of the Poor Law, seem somehow or other to refuse to consider the supply of clothing—boots and other forms of clothing—as part of their responsibility. May I beg him to look into that point and to see whether he could not do something to induce them to meet with a little more flexibility in their administrative minds a problem, the seriousness of which I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman recognises just as much as I do myself?
Let the House be perfectly clear on this point. The clothing that is coming 828 in, is not coming from the income of the parents nor from the family resources. The clothing that is coming in to scores of families, especially the boots and stockings that are essential if the children are to attend school, are being sent in by charitably-disposed people outside. I ought to have given earlier the figures of non-attendance in Blaina—and this non-attendance is largely owing to bad shoes and bad stockings. Those of us who come from families of the same sort of psychology as the families in these valleys know how much we used to kick against going to school unless we were just as respectable as the other boys and girls in our own classes. [An HON. MEMBER: "Barefooted!"] Yes, in the place from which I come it was no disgrace, I am glad to say, to be barefooted, and I wish some more of the children in other places would go barefooted for the sake of health as well as of comfort. But in Blaina, very largely owing to the feelings of the parents and of the children themselves, they are not going to school unless they can go decently clad, unless they can go without feeling self-conscious as regards the defects of their clothing. We are told 247 school weeks were lost in the last quarter on account of absenteeism from school. That absenteeism, as I say, was very largely owing to the inability to get hold of enough clothing, or the right kind of clothing, to enable the children to go to school happy in their minds, and self-respecting at the same time.
I would like to press this question of the clothing of the school children on the Minister of Health as one which calls for instant handling. The Report goes on to describe how Blaina and Nantyglo, two adjoining districts of the same character, are suffering from the same industrial troubles and how the people are living. If I were to take the right hon. Gentleman down with me to South Wales and if we were to walk quietly and without ostentation up and down the streets there, I am sure he would ask me the question which I have asked of many people in the same circumtances, "How on earth do the people live?" It is bad enough to live if you have a decent income. It is a constant worry to make ends meet even if your income is fairly good, but there, wherever we look round the pits, we see that the wheels at the 829 top which used to be constantly whirring round are still and we see the men instead of being in miners' clothes, with blackened faces, hurrying home from their work, standing about the streets or walking about the streets idle. We ask how do they live? Well, my hon. Friends have given a very interesting and very pathetic explanation. First, they are living on their savings, and there is no way in which you can ascertain how much the savings of a community have been drawn upon, better than by an examination of the books of the local co-operative societies. Hon. Members must bear in mind that the local co-operative societies in these South Wales mining communities are not merely shop-keeping affairs. They are part and parcel of the social organised life of the community. When we turn to them we find that in those two districts, the share capital of the co-operative society which in 1920 was £250,000 has fallen to £80,000. So great was the fall and so apparent was it that it had not reached the bottom, that the committee had to pass a resolution prohibiting further withdrawals.
That is not the, only form of saving. A great proportion of the houses formerly owned by miners have either been sold or have had to be mortgaged, as heavily as they could be mortgaged. If any hon. Member had the misfortune of owning miners' houses in these districts, he probably would have got from £250 to £300 for each house a few years ago, but cottages which were of that value four of five years ago have so depreciated in value that such an hon. Member might congratulate himself if he got £50 each out of those cottages now. These facts indicate one of the ways in which the people are living. Then there is another. Everybody is getting into debt. I remember in a previous Debate of this kind the question of forcing people to pay their rates was raised. It looks very bad when we find that people have been withholding the payment of rates as long as there has been no coercion upon them, but that, then, when somebody comes along and there is a change in administration and coercion is imposed on them, they begin to pay their rates. As far as I am concerned, I should be the last to defend that sort of thing, but we must get behind it to see what it means. It is 830 like this. The income of these people was insufficient to enable them to meet the sum total of their obligations, private and public. They could have paid their rates, or they could have paid the grocer's bill, or they could have bought boots for the children, or the family might have been taken away on a Saturday afternoon or evening, as was the custom, to some mild form of entertainment. But they could not do it all. What happened was that they were compelled to pick and choose. If they paid this bill they could not pay the next bill.
Of course, there are black sheep in every flock—in the flocks behind me and the flocks in front of me—[HON. MEMRERS: "No!"] Hon. Members must allow me to say so for the sake of argument. But we found on inquiry into the matter that, substantially, the situation was as I have described it. These people had incomes so small as to make it impossible for them to fulfil the whole round of their obligations and they were compelled either to refuse or to refrain from paying the grocer's bill, or the rates, or something else. For instance, these districts with which I am dealing, Blaina and Nantyglo, have become increasingly in debt. It is estimated that there is owing to the council from the 16,000 inhabitants of the district in all sorts of debts, no less than £120,000 of which part takes the form of arrears of rent on the council houses, averaging no less than £43 per house. In addition, some £50,000 or £60,000 is owed to private traders, and some £15,000 further is arrears of rent to landlords; and the council and guardians are, in turn, indebted to the Ministry of Health. What an awful position! How on earth can any man lift up his head? I think that not one of us could, if we not only lived in, but were enmeshed in, this horrible state of debt, debt—debt which is piled so heavily on our backs that when we look up we see no daylight. A man or a community may get into debt, but so long as a debt is not so great that a determination to struggle to get away from it, above it, is not crushed out, it is all right. Sometimes a debt is a visitatation of Providence upon a person who requires to be spurred to action, but a debt which lies so heavily upon him as this, a condition of hopeless despair 831 which is so black around and above you as this, that is no visitation of Providence at all. All that happens under those circumstances is that a man sits down on the roadside and says to himself, "Well, if the worst comes, it cannot be worse than it is now."
Still answering the question, How do they live? my two hon. Friends say 700 residents have obtained work in mines outside the district; relatives are paying money in; and then there are Government payments, the unemployment and health insurance, old age pensions, and so on; and there is private charity. From those sources the people of this district live. What is the prospect, because that is an important question? There is very little likelihood of the industry reviving in a reasonable time. There are seven pits in this district with which I am dealing, Blaina and Nantyglo, and only one remains equipped. That is terribly serious. The other six are either dismantled or partly dismantled. The Beynon Colliery, in this district, a wellknown colliery, might employ 1,600 men if reopened, but that is about the only immediate prospect or hope that trade and income will come to this particular district. The prospects, therefore, are that the district will become more or less evacuated, and that this will mean that a large number of the existing 4,000 cottages will become derelict—4,000 cottages, which a year or two ago sheltered families, hard-working, honest families, will become derelict, the rates will go up and up above the present figure of 25s. in the £, and bankruptcy will be imminent. That is the picture of those in that district, and yet, horrible as this may seem, oppressive as this prospect is, my hon. Friends have put in a paragraph about that district, not from their own experience, but because they were told to be sure to emphasise it, which I will read:It remains finally for us to record the high tribute paid to the character of the people by all the authorities with whom we came into contact. They informed us that in all their distress the people had remained sober and law-abiding, and that, with the exception of cases of petty coal pilfering, there had been no increase of crime or disorder of any kind. This testimony makes it all the more incumbent on the nation to take some active steps to come to the assistance of this distressed community.832 I have also got information about Rhymney and the Newport area, which is of the same character, except this: Where you get, in South Wales and elsewhere, a mixed industrial population, then the distress is not so great because there are sections of the community that have an income. There is part of the property of the community that is being put to industrial purposes and is able to pay its rates, and that condition you find in the Newport Union, particulars of which I have in front of me now, but even here, in this area, 14 collieries were working in 1921, and of these four are completely closed, two more are working at very low pressure, and of the remainder only two are fully occupied—two out of 14 fully working! The financial position is as follows: The Union has an overdraft at the bank of £60,000 and owes £20,000 to the Goschen Committee. The total arrears of rates amount to about £31,000. There the elected guardians still operate, and they have agreed to make cuts in their relief, but that is the position even then, refusing, as they do, to give outdoor relief to married able-bodied men, and only helping them by way of loans, surely a thing that nobody would ever accept unless under the most dire stress of circumstances. Without work and with very little prospect, you are offered a loan, and you are compelled to take it. I put it to any hon. Member that, if he is reasonable, he will agree that the compulsion must be very great. Even then my hon. Friends' Report says, in regard to these loans:We were informed that loaned relief to able-bodied unemployed and their families amounted at the present time to about £1,000 a week. The new old-age pensioners, being deprived of other national benefit, have been some additional burden on the union.That is another section of the picture, in the Newport area, and if you take the whole survey of Monmouth, it is just the same, the two salient points in the survey of the county being, first of all, the financial situation—overdrafts, the lowering of the value of a penny rate in the pound, the constant deterioration of the financial position—and, secondly, the human results, the deterioration of the human beings who have to undergo and go through those terribly trying conditions.
Look at Blaina and Nantyglo again from another point of view. An investigation 833 in December last showed that 423 out of 3,245 children examined were subnormal for various reasons. Further, it says that the health of mothers and their general condition is steadily growing worse. This House cannot possibly stand by or merely sympathise while that sort of thing is going on. We must help these people out of their state in some way or other. In Glamorgan, there is a more varied industy. In my constituency, for instance, you have coal mining, steel smelting, tin-plate works, and a certain amount of dock work. Therefore, you do not find the same terrible, hopeless depression as in a pure and simple mining area, with no means of making an income except by going down the pits and working there.
Then, again, it is surely a frightful mistake for this House to remain complacent while a busy industry, an industry which is just struggling to keep going, is being asked to bear the burden and the responsibility of an industry that has ceased to go on. That is a devastating method, and there is not a business man in the country who would not hold up his hand in holy horror at such a thing. In such districts they are paying their rates, and struggling to keep going, in order to make the public administration possible, although an industry like coal mining has ceased to such a large extent. My friends paid visits to institutions that are sensitive to changes, like the Employment Exchanges, and they examined what was going on at those places. They also paid visits to the co-operative societies of Glamorgan, and again they got the same story. Will the House bear with me while I quote a sentence from this report?
The share capital of the retail societies attached to the Co-operative Wholesale Society in South Wales, in 1925 stood at £1,502,396. In 1926 it was £1,400,000.I give round figures:The membership, however, had increased during that period from 123,000 to 128,000, whilst the debts of members to the societies increased from £469,000 in 1925 to £732,000 in 1926. It is estimated that the indebtedness at the moment is £1,000,000.One serious aspect of this problem is that with regard to thrift in the form of insurance. It is a good, sound thing for any person who has a precarious income to insure himself as much as he can against every possible contingency in his life. I am one of those who believe that we have not, either as a nation or 834 individually, used the economic advantage of insurance nearly to the extent that we might. In these areas, there has been a large and very widespread practice of insurance—insurance against death, against sickness, against death of children, burial insurance, and so on, and policies have had to be surrendered at a very much reduced value, while many have had to be dropped altogether, lapsing in the ordinary way. I do hope that hon. Members understand what that means. It is not simply the stopping of a practice. It is not merely saying: "I am sorry, I am so poor now, I cannot go on." That is not what it means. That would be bad enough; but these people have actually put their money into insurance, and they have as much right, in morality, to private property in what they have put into those funds as you or I have to claim the right of private property in any sort of possession, like our coats and waistcoats which we have bought and transferred to ourselves by the passing of money into the hands of those who had them before. All that has gone.
It is not only that their prospects are gone, but their accumulations are gone. These people may, of course, have got a little consideration. Every one of us, who has had through our hands the kind of proposals that are made to people who have surrender claims, by many—I say many, and I want to be cautious in my statement—of the proprietary insurance companies, know the insignificant fraction that is offered to them. Not only in regard to proprietary insurance has this happened, but many will fall out of National Health Insurance. This will result, not only in the loss of all benefits, but in the loss ultimately of the contributory old age pension at 65, and the widows' pension and children's allowance as well.
Rhondda is also the same. One thing which is emphasised in the report in front of me in regard to this district is the necessity of seeing that expectant mothers are properly fed, and that an adequate supply of milk is given to them and to their infants. Another point which is emphasised is the position of the young men. I have seen these young men myself. What struck me about them was that I was looking at men who were derelict in youth. When one gets 835 grey-haired at 50 or 60 years of age, the state of derelict age is a natural one, and before we have reached the age of 60 we ought to have acquired enough philosophy to be able to look at it with a perfectly calm mind. But it is very tragic to see young men of 18, 20, and 25 already bearing the traces in their walk and in their demeanour of being derelict while their blood still courses fresh and vigorous in their veins. That is what is happening in the districts I am describing now. Then you come to the tops of the valleys of Glamorgan, places like Ferndale and Maerdy. If this House is ever going to take a careful and scientific view of its responsibilities for maintaining types of population, we ought to cast our minds and our attention upon the peoples of these valleys.
Now upon the top of the valley you get the family still in touch with all the great and energising creative power of God itself. They go to the churches and chapels of the villages every Sunday. They still believe in those old-fashioned faiths that have done so much to give us our backbone and character, and which have enabled us to face trials and untold difficulties. They are not spoiled, they are not blasé, they are not blinded by the forces of our degraded town life, but are strong in mind, strong in conscience, strong in body. There you will find them perched away up on those high ledges of our South Wales valleys just as you find them in rather out-of-the-way places in Scotland. Most unfortunately it is those villages which are suffering most at the present time.
It is said that haulage from the top of the valleys to the base of the valleys is expensive. I do not know, but the fact of the matter is, that at places where there is vigorous growth, and so on, you find the poorest districts with the darkest outlook and the most terrible condition of affairs. Take Glyncorrwg, a very delightful village at the top of the Cymmer Valley. There we have the Glyncorrwg and Abergwynfi Coal Company that has closed down, and has turned 1,100 men out of work. Then there is the Imperial Navigation Colliery closed down with 1,250 men out of work; the Argoed Colliery closed down with 150 men out 836 of work, and the Corrwg Vale Colliery closed down with 130 men out of work. These collieries have gone into the Bankruptcy Court. The Ocean Coal Colliery at Abergwynfi has been idle for two years, and it employed 900 men. The present rateable value of the union is £33,149. The total rates outstanding are: poor rate, £6,486, and district rate £5,523. The rates due from the collieries are: poor rate, £3,712—there is no shirking there; it is not there to pay—and district rate, £3,436. There is an overdraft at the bank of £9,626, and the total rate of the borough is 34s. 4d. in the £.
That is a very serious situation, and it is certainly one that ought to be handled energetically. No excuse and no difficulty ought to be recognised. It ought to be got through somehow, even if we break away from tradition and, not as a principle and not habitually, but for a time from the good, sound laws of economic administration. We are face to face with a very serious crisis, a very serious difficulty, and I am perfectly certain that nobody will accuse any Minister who goes with his fist at it, gets right through it somehow or other, and does his best to build up a new condition of affairs. What has to be done? We must, first of all, save the infants. We must see that every maternity and infant welfare equipment is up-to-date. We must face the question of boots, shoes and clothing, and keep the children at school. It is always difficult to decide between public charity and private charity, but I think in a case like this it is far better that the community should take its obligations upon its shoulders and do its work. It is most distasteful to the individual to beg of his friends for their cast-off clothing, and for boots and shoes that his friends' children do not require, and which can still be worn by other children. I think it is most degrading to sensitive children, and to sensitive parents of those children. The only thing that can redeem private charity is the personal touch. When private charity becomes impersonal, it is rather degrading, and we should not encourage it more than is necessary in the circumstances. I think far too much of it is required to help South Wales now.
I have already referred to the action of the Minister of Health and the 837 Minister of Education in this matter. They would earn unreserved gratitude if they would go a little further and see if this problem could not be definitely and successfully tackled.
Then there is the question of the corporate life. That cannot wait. It is very unfair that it should wait. It may be said, "Let them go on; we will not be unduly hard upon them when the time comes for us to square up." That is not fair. See what happens. You are now exhausting the savings of your poor people in order to pay rates. The person who now has exhausted his savings can pay nothing; the person who has still got his savings is being drained and drawn upon. That is one aspect. I think it must be decided, without any delay, what the attitude of the Ministry of Health and the Treasury is going to be towards the financial position of the public authorities. There is another consideration. In some places round there, say in Glamorganshire, the rating unions include large areas of coal, but also considerable areas of iron and steel, and also tin plate. If the Government allow the present state of things to continue, every day it will be more and more difficult for iron and steel and tin plate to survive. I know several cases where the works are going on, and have been kept going on, by the skin of their teeth. A colliery company goes out of action. That moment the rates paid by the colliery company cease to come to the boards of guardians and public authorities, who have got to get their money somewhere. Then the rate is raised, and those companies, which have been carrying on only by the skin of their teeth, owing to the increase of rates cannot go on. There was a deputation to the Minister of Health and other Ministers from South Wales the other day representing the Coal Conciliation Board who put the case very forcibly. One of the points driven home with great force was that South Wales particularly is being specially handicapped.
Then there is the question of migration from one area to another. That is going to be slow. I do not think you are going to do very much about that at once. Undoubtedly, it ought to be hastened. It is a question of trade and new outlets at home and abroad for those people who, unfortunately, can find no outlet for their 838 labour here. That is, as far as I can see, the line upon which we have got to go. We must not handicap our people in health, in discipline or in skill. We must not, if we can help it, send them out into the world with weak minds, weak bodies and weak characters. We must not stand by while the great mass of our very best people are dissipating their savings—not dissipating them in such a way as to make new capital for themselves, but dissipating them in dead expenditure, because nothing is going to the individual, who is paying his obligations to a district that is going to be derelict, from which he is to be uprooted as soon as possible, keeping his house going, and by and by having to leave it, as some of my people had to leave theirs, unsold to be damaged by wind and rain until it becomes worthless. We must not penalise industry on account of the poverty of conditions. That is a point at which I have hammered already, and that is a new angle to look at it. We must do everything we possibly can to enable the industries that are still going, to keep going, and for industries that are just below the paying margin, we must do everything we can to improve their position. Then we must not allow the public authorities to become bankrupt. We must enable them to pay their debts. We must enable them to see what is ahead of them. We must give them some sort of clear outlook in the future, and, therefore, I have taken this opportunity, on behalf of my hon. Friends who act with me, to raise, on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, what we consider to be one of the most pressing problems to which the Government can turn their attention.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Chamberlain)
As far as the Government are concerned, we welcome the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in bringing forward for discussion upon the Consolidated Fund Bill the very serious and tragic position which exists not only in South Wales but in other mining areas, and I, personally, welcome very sincerely the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the matter. It would be easy to exaggerate or to overcolour the conditions in those areas. The position is quite serious enough to stand upon its own merits without any such raising of 839 the lights, and the right hon. Gentleman has been temperate and restrained in the picture he has drawn of a part of the country which is familiar to him. I think all of us are agreed as to a considerable part of what the right hon. Gentleman has put before us. We find ourselves facing a situation where a considerable population dependent practically upon a single industry, at which they have worked all their lives, and at which all their friends have worked, find that industry has now fallen upon such evil times that a great number of pits are actually exhausted, and others are so near the point of exhaustion that apparently it is no longer economically possible to work them.
I do not want to paint too gloomy a picture of the coal industry in South Wales, because it would be a mistake to suppose that that industry is in a state of decay from which it is not going to recover. On the contrary, I believe that even in South Wales there is confidence among miners and mineowners and managers that in time the situation will recover, and the coal industry of South Wales will regain a large measure at any rate of its former prosperity. But while that may be true of the industry as a whole, it does not alter the fact that there are certain particular districts where there can be no such hope. That is the case in Blaina, which the right hon. Gentleman described following the report of the two hon. Members who went to South Wales to look into matters. Out of seven collieries there, only one is now working; the remaining six will never work again. I speak from my own recollection of when I visited that particular place—there is practically no hope that those collieries will ever be reopened. If one realises that position and the somewhat similar, although not quite so difficult, position in Durham and one or two districts in Northumberland, I suppose one must reckon that there are a number of men—it has been variously estimated, but it may reach 200,000—who are not likely to find permanent employment again in the mining industry.
That is a situation which, as far as I know—at any rate during our time—is unprecedented, and it is one which calls for exceptional measures, and measures which, as far as the Government are concerned, 840 as soon as they can see their way clear to solving the problem, they will not be deterred from taking by any consideration of what has happened in this country before. Before I come to the conclusions to be drawn from this very tragic state of things, I, would like, first of all, to examine the situation as it is to-day. I think the right hon. Gentleman himself agrees that whatever measures we may take ultimately to cope with the problem of this large number of men who can no longer expect to find their occupation in the one to which they were brought up, the process must be slow, and therefore we must contemplate a period during which those measures will not have their full effect, and in which the position in the distressed areas must be most carefully and sympathetically watched. There are in every district various public agencies and public bodies whose duty it is to look after those who are so impoverished that they are no longer able to look after thmeselves, or support themselves without some assistance, and the first question which I have to put to myself is: Are those agencies in South Wales failing to fulfil the duties which have been entrusted to them, and are the conditions in South Wales to-day so bad, so dangerous to health, or so different from those to be found in other large areas where there is unemployment and distress, as to justify us in employing fresh agencies supplementing those which already exist?
The names of the two hon. Members who went down to South Wales, the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) are a sufficient guarantee that they would not make any suggestions for which they did not believe they had ample evidence, and the report which they presented, although, I take it, they went to the worst places, is singularly moderate in its comments upon the state of the health of the people in South Wales. There are quotations from medical officers of health expressing a general opinion, and there are statements made by individuals, but I think anybody reading that report carefully will agree that what they found was rather an apprehension of what might occur if things did not get any better than an account of any 841 very serious deterioration up to the present. I think that is obvious if we turn to the remedies which the hon. Members propose at the end of their report, and which are three in number, but none of which mentions malnutrition as among the things which are urgent and pressing in their claims. I am not in any way underrating these considerations; you cannot have such distress, such unemployment and such impoverishment as obtain in South Wales to-day without their having some effect upon the health of the people, but it is not merely physical, it is very largely psychological. That is, I think, the great tragedy of the situation, that people's hearts are broken, and they no longer have the courage, the spring and the spirit which enable a man to face up to his difficulties and feel confident that he can overcome them. They are disheartened and they are discouraged, and that feeling must ultimately have its effect upon their physical health.
I fully appreciate that aspect of the case, but the conclusion to which I come, not merely from reading the report of the hon. Members, but from the information which comes to me from my own medical officers, from the medical officers of the Board of Education and from the general inspectors of the Ministry of Health, is that while we must keep a very careful eye upon what is happening to the public health in South Wales, and, of course, particularly the health of the children and expectant mothers, there is no reason up to the present to believe that it has reached any very disquieting or serious stage. The hon. Members in their report have drawn particular attention to the want of boots and clothing, not merely because children without boots and stockings may run the risk of catching cold, but also because of the effect it has had upon education. Undoubtedly there is a serious shortage of boots and clothing among the children. I think the report of the committee mentions that out of 40,000 children in Monmouthshire, 3,200 were short of boots, and their recommendation and the recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman is that that shortage should be made up out of public funds.
I must say I was a little sorry at the observations which the right hon. Gentleman made about private benevolence. I 842 think it would be a great pity to depreciate the value of private benevolence, or the desirability of it. In my own town of Birmingham year after year the Lord Mayor has issued an appeal for boots and clothing for the poor children, and a local newspaper every year issues an appeal for what it calls a Christmas Tree Fund, but out of which a considerable sum of money also goes to buy boots and clothing for the children. Never have we thought of coming to the Government and asking for public funds to be utilised for this purpose. Never have the citizens of Birmingham failed to respond to such an appeal as has been made to them, and never have I seen any feeling of humiliation on the part of those who receive those gifts or any spirit of grudging or of disinclination on the part of those who gave them. Those who give money to things of this kind have given it not merely willingly but gladly. They realise that there is no pleasure like the pleasure of giving. A fund of that kind appealing to private benevolence institutes a kindly, neighbourly feeling among the people, who realise that they are members of a community which is a real brotherhood, and I think that is a precious thing, and worthy of praise and imitation, and not of sneers.
I dare say I shall be told that I must not compare Birmingham, which has a large amount of wealth, with South Wales with all its poverty. I freely and fully admit that. The people in South Wales have been most generous to one another in raising local funds, and I know that they have already got to the end of their resources in some localities. I suggest that what is wanted in South Wales is not a series of local funds depending on the people in the locality, who are not well off, such as shopkeepers, teachers or members of their own councils, but what is required is that they should try to organise a South Wales district fund to cover a much larger area. I think we should be underrating the generosity of the people of Wales as a whole if we were to assume that outside the local areas there are not people prepared to come forward in order to help those who are in worse circumstances than themselves. In this matter, I do not think we need stop at South Wales. The people in this country as well as in South Wales have their part 843 to play, and I am sure they would be glad to join in a scheme of this kind. Until we are satisfied that all efforts of that kind are really exhausted and nothing more can be done, I feel unwilling to entertain the idea that public funds should be used for this purpose, because the money would have to be found by other places which have their own distress to provide for, even though it be not so acute as in South Wales. It has astonished me ever since the War to see how private people have come forward and contributed to every fund where an appeal has been made for the purposes of charity on behalf of poor people. I am certain that there is plenty more money where that came from.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about local government in South Wales, and said that was a part of the charge mentioned in the Motion which was on the Order Paper a little while ago. I think I should say something about the situation of local government in South Wales in reply to that statement. Is it a fact that local government is breaking down, or has broken down, in South Wales? I should give an emphatic denial to any statement of that kind.
Those hon. Members who compiled the report which has been quoted certainly put forward many illustrations of the difficult positions in which local authorities find themselves. Of course, it is obvious that that must be so, because they have a double burden to bear. The distress existed before the coal stoppage of 1926, and before that date considerable debts had been incurred. While that strike was taking place, heavy burdens were accumulated by boards of guardians in South Wales. I think some of them were unnecessarily incurred, and if the guardians had been more careful, those debts would not have reached the amount they have now reached. The localities were not only hit in that way, but they were hit by the method of rating collieries, and one of the results of the prolonged stoppage in the coal trade was that a great deal of assessable value of the local authorities disappeared, because the collieries could no longer make their contributions to the rates. The result was that the rates had to be increased, and in some of the districts they are still very high.
844 It would be a mistake to say that the local authorities have been cowed by the difficulties they have found. My information is that never before, or, at any rate, never in recent times, has there been so keen an interest in local government in those districts, or so high a level of administration as has been reached during the present trouble. Take the case of Blaina, where the conditions are as bad as anywhere in Wales. The council in Blaina have been making valiant efforts to reduce their expenditure. They have succeeded in inspiring the whole of that unfortunate district with the sense that they have to face up to their difficulties and do the best they can to meet them. They have succeeded in the last half year in reducing their expenditure below their income, so that they have actually come out on the right side.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
If the hon. Member refers to the report, she will find no confirmation of the statement she has just made. Rhondda has gone the same way. In Abertillery, where the gentlemen known locally as "the Three Musketeers" are administering the local government, the district rate for the September half of 1925 was 5s. in the £. For the current half year it was 4s. 8d. in the £, and I understand that during the next half year it will be brought down to 4s: 6d. in the £, and this has been done in consequence of the economies which have been made and the recovery of rates. They now find that the reduced rates will be sufficient to meet their expenditure and give them a substantial surplus.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Not only that, but it will produce a substantial surplus towards the reduction of their debt. I think this is highly creditable to South Wales, and to the local patriotism of the councils in South Wales, who are showing a spirit which, I hope, will carry them through. Of course, the right hon. 845 Gentleman followed up the recommendation of the report by saying that the time must come when the Government must announce what they are going to do about the repayment of these particular loans, and he recommends that we should cancel the loans that have been granted. I think nothing would be a greater mistake than to do that. As a matter of fact, we are not in a position to say at the present time which loans, or whether all loans, should be repaid, or whether cancellation is necessary. Nothing would be more discouraging to local authorities, who are making great efforts to repay their debts, than to find that others who are making no such efforts are having their debts reduced or cancelled.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The time must come when we shall have to make a final settlement, but I do not think that time has come yet. We are taking great care that the debts shall not be increased, and, as long as the local services are being carried on in those areas, it is not for us at the present time to form any opinion as to what the final settlement shall be. We still come back to the problem which I stated at the commencement. If there are in those areas these derelicts, if there are large numbers of miners who cannot any longer be expected to find employment in their own district, obviously measures must not be taken to tie them to those places where they can never hope to earn their living or support their own families, and the question resolves itself into a problem of transference from the places where there is no work to places where there is work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is work to be found?"] The right hon. Gentleman quoted largely from the report of the Committee, and I should like to make a short quotation. The first recommendation of the Committee is as follows:Steps must be taken to effect the transference of population from the areas which are hopelessly derelict to other places. This may very well commence with single ablebodied men and juveniles, but must ultimately (unless there is some unexpected development of industry) extend to the whole population. We suggest that various forms of administrative action be taken immediately to encourage such emigration.That was the policy of the Government long before the hon. Members went down 846 to South Wales to investigate this question. The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Government had been guilty of neglect in regard to this matter, and he seemed to think that we had only just set up this Committee before he visited South Wales. That is not a fair statement of the case. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Industrial Transference Board was appointed at the end of last year, and they have put in something like two months' work upon this transference problem. Hon. Members have been asking where are the places where there is work to be found? That is what the Board is finding out, and, though hon. Members jeer, I can assure them I have been assured that by constant attention to this matter of transference, we hope ultimately to be able to transfer a very considerable proportion of those who now find life hanging heavy on their hands because they cannot get employment. We are also taking steps to give the miners training in order that we may make it easier for them to embark upon other means of supporting themselves and their families.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not want to repeat what I said only a little over a month ago about the various training centres under the control of the Ministry of Labour, but I may perhaps remind the House that I said then that there are more than one of these centres. There is a centre for training men who wish to go overseas; there is another for men who may find occupation at home, and then there is a centre for young women where they are given training in domestic service. Finally, there are centres for the training of boys. The hon. Members who were responsible for that, report approve very much of the training centres for juveniles, and want them extended. They say:Means must be taken to bring into them all boys from 14 to 18 years of age.They are open to all boys between 14 and 18 years of age, and, in the case of boys between 16 and 18 who are applicants for unemployment benefit, it is made a condition of giving them benefit that they attend at one of these centres. Of course, we have no such means of compulsion in the case of boys under 16, 847 and I shall be interested to hear, from the hon. Member who follows me in the Debate, whether he has any suggestions to make by which boys between 14 and 16 could he compelled to attend these centres. At present we have not seen our way to bring any compulsion into the matter.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
The point that we made was that there are not enough training centres to which boys between 14 and 16 who may apply for admission could be sent.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
If it is only a question of providing sufficient centres, I may say that there are 24 juvenile centres already in existence, and others will shortly be open, and I am told that, when the new ones come into operation, there will be no place where any boy who desires to join one of these centres will not find one within reasonable distance of his home. I will only add that the Ministry of Labour will be perfectly willing, if they get evidence that there is any area where a further centre is wanted, to take that into consideration, and, if a case is made out, still further to extend them. I do not think there is any more practical method of helping these people to find occupation in other walks of life beside mining than that which the Ministry of Labour has put into operation. It has already had a very considerable amount of success, and I think it will meet with still further success in the future.
Let me summarise the position. We are in the presence of a condition of affairs which we have never had to deal with before. We have a large population whose means of livelihood has disappeared from the locality in which they have lived, and the problem before us is to find a means of transferring those people from these derelict areas, and take them into areas where they would be able to make a fresh start in life. It is not possible for me at this stage to enter into any detail as to the views of the Industrial Transference Board. It is, of course, necessary that they should examine every aspect of the case, that they should look into all the various suggestions which reach them, and that they should get into touch with great employers of labour and see what possibilities there are of absorbing some of these men. 848 When they have had the opportunity of completing their survey, we shall find what obstacles there are which can be removed and which are preventing transference to-day. When we have the Board's Report before us, we shall be able to consider how we can remove these obstacles. I feel certain—I am only repeating what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—that it is on these lines alone that we can look for any hopeful solution of this very difficult and tragic problem.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I desire to put this question to the Members of the House in a somewhat new light, but before I do so I should like to answer the question which was put to my colleague and myself by the Minister of Health. He asked us to say specifically what was our attitude towards the training centres for boys and girls which already exist. Our answer is that, so far as they go, they are doing valuable work, but they do not go nearly far enough. In the first place, with regard to boys, there are, as my hon. Friend has said, a number of centres which at present provide no training at all for boys between the ages of 16 and 18. I am very glad to hear from the Minister that the number of places in which there is this lack of training centres is being gradually reduced, but I do think it would be very valuable if the Minister could see his way to bring in boys between 14 and 16, and, so far as I am concerned, any steps which he takes to bring in boys of that age will meet with my support. It is not only a matter of boys, but also of girls, and there. I think, the training is singularly lacking in completeness. In the first place, I believe it is confined exclusively to training for domestic service, and, even so far as that is concerned, it does not cover anything like the whole population.
Having answered the question which was addressed to me, I come back to the main point. My friends on these benches see this problem primarily as one of human distress. I see the question primarily as one of finance. That does not mean that the human element does not enter in, because, in my opinion, what takes place in the realm of finance finds its way later into the realm of every human economy, and the misery and distress prevailing in South Wales at the 849 present time is due to this prime question of finance, which lies at the back of it all. The Minister said that the local authorities were holding their own, but I do not agree with him. I think that certain of the local authorities are, in effect, bankrupt. They are not bankrupt in so many words, because we have not a law of bankruptcy relating to local authorities, and that is just where I think we are wrong. Many years ago it was found that, when an individual was loaded down with debt, it was a mistake not to relieve him of that ultimate burden by allowing him to go bankrupt. It was thought, before these laws came into operation, that to relieve a man of debt would be to encourage other people to incur debt unwisely, but it has been found by experience that it is much better to give an individual a hope of recovery by saying to him, "Let us examine your affairs; pay so much in the £, clear it all away, and start afresh." Such a position encourages the individual to get to work and really shoulder his burden, whereas, if the original plan were adopted of simply piling upon him burden after burden which he could not bear, he became hopeless and ceased to try to get on.
That is the position which we have to face to-day in regard to certain of the authorities in South Wales. The position is a new one; so far as I am aware, it has never occurred before in regard to any authority in the country, but it is very likely that this position may recur in the future, not only for reasons such as we have here, but for other reasons that may be quite different. Hitherto, we have had a rapidly increasing population in this country, and the building of houses, the starting of factories, and every other enterprise that has been undertaken, and every bit of money that has been borrowed on public lines, has given good value; but there may come a time when we have a stationary population in this country. That time is not far away, if we take emigration into account, and it may happen that, not only in South Wales but in other populous parts of the country, we may get a state of affairs in which money that has been borrowed by local authorities is not represented by any real assets. That is a 850 position which is very rapidly coming about in some of these valleys in South Wales.
In the case, for instance, of the local authority covering Blaina and Nantyglo, it is not merely that the rent and the rates are in arrear, but the serious factor is that the houses, which are the houses of the corporation, built by them with borrowed money, have not the value which is required in order that they may be a good asset in the corporation's balance-sheet. My hon. Friend quoted the case of a house that changed hands—this was a house owned by a private collier—at £50, and we find in Abergwynfi another case of a collier who owned his house and, wanting to raise money on it, found that he could not raise more than £25 as a maximum mortgage on his house. Why is that? It is simply because these two areas are becoming derelict, houses there are becoming of no value, and, therefore, there is no asset in the houses in either neighbourhood. In these circumstances it is not true that these local authorities are able to hold their own. They are, in fact, becoming bankrupt, and I venture to suggest that the sooner that fact is realised by the Ministry of Health the better. I do not say, of course, that we should simply go to them with hands full and say, "Here are all your debts cancelled." We do not take that view at all. The view that we take is that these districts ought to be dealt with somewhat in the way that an individual threatened with bankruptcy is dealt with, because only in that way are we likely to get the individual in the one case, or the local authority in the other, really to be hopeful with regard to the future. It is not necessary for me to quote figures to prove my case, but I would remind the Minister that in, for instance, the Pontypridd Union, there is an overdraft of no less than £205,000, and also a debt of £280,000 to the Goschen Committee, and there are rates owing to the amount of £150,000. In Abergwynfi, where the whole industry is gradually closing down, many thousands of pounds have been borrowed on some 282 houses which at their present value can only be worth a fraction of the amount which has been borrowed on their behalf.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
Yes; the local authority has built the houses in the ordinary way, borrowing the money by the ordinary method, I take it, from the Ministry of Health. These houses are derelict, and are not worth the money, and that is the position with which both local authorities and private individuals who have built houses in those districts are faced. It is a very serious situation, and I suggest that it calls for a new policy, an imaginative constructive policy with regard to the question of the bankruptcy of public authorities.
Now comes the next grave question, namely, that the penny rate is bringing in a decreasing amount in large districts in Wales. The penny rate of the Glyncorrwg Urban District Council is only bringing in something like one-half of what it did a few years back, and in the whole county of Monmouthshire, where a large number of industries are flourishing to balance, to some extent, the derelict areas, even there, between last year and this, there has been a fall of 10 per cent. in the yield of the penny rate. Those authorities are faced with one of two alternatives, either the gradual slowing down of all the public activities or else they must put up the rates. If they put up the rates they are not necessarily going to get any more money, because they will get a larger number of people who will be unable to pay and will get in arrears. Whichever alternative they adopt they are faced with a very grave situation. Difficult as the situation is, grave as the tasks are which confront the Ministry of Health, they are not to be solved through the misery of the population on the spot. They will have to be dealt with in some other way.
The Minister quoted the facts with regard to some boards of guardians as to how they were getting along. Guardians are refusing to find money for certain things which not only supporters of our party, but all sections of the people, ministers of religion, doctors and chambers of commerce, are urging them to do. I will give one illustration. Where children are found ill nourished and requiring school meals, those meals are provided by the local authority, and the teachers are so self-sacrificing that on Saturday and Sunday the teachers carry the meals to the homes of the children. 852 The local guardians, in every case where that is done, have insisted upon deducting two shillings a week from any money they may give in relief to the family where those children are concerned, thus neutralising the benefit they get from the better meals. Public authorities have petitioned the guardians to remove that restriction, but in all cases they have been met with refusal.
The question of boots is a very serious problem in South Wales. The Minister does not deny that, but he says he is quite satisfied that, so far as private charity goes, at any rate, that ought to be left alone. I can quite understand that in a flourishing city like Birmingham, where there may be a few poor people, private charity can be allowed to meet the difficulty, but the situation is very different here. You have here a population who have absolutely no money arising from the work they do because there is no work of any kind. The only means they have of living at all is provided, in a great number of cases, by some form of public money coming in, and in many cases they are wholly dependent upon the money that comes from the guardians. The guardians do not give them cash, but orders in kind, which are solely food, so that these people have no money with which to buy boots, therefore they must get their boots by charity or not at all. In large areas where the guardians take that course the people are dependent, so far as their children are concerned, on some form of charitable relief.
Under these circumstances, there is a very strong case, not necessarily for making a present of boots, as the Minister seems to imagine, from the national funds, but for relaxing the rules and allowing the guardians to give boots in certain cases. In the Newport area, I understand, the guardians give boots to necessitous children. They can give as much as two pairs a year to children of school-going age, but in most of the other areas that is not allowed, I understand, mainly by the instructions of the Minister himself. I put it to the House that that restriction ought to be relaxed, in view of the fact that the distress is not confined to a few poor people in the area, but is practically universal in the whole district. So long as those children have not got adequate boots—and I do not 853 think the Minister will contend that private charity is adequate—there are considerable numbers of children who are unable to attend school. I think the President of the Board of Education recognises that that involves a waste of the educational opportunities of the country. Something more than private charity is required, because it is essential that the educational services should be fully used, and if, as we found in Abergwynffi, a considerable and increasing number of children are kept away from school, that is a very grave national scandal. It would be very much better if a little money were spent in clothing these children than that these rules should be rigidly enforced and the children kept away because their clothing is inadequate. When I come to migration, I find myself in considerable agreement with the right hon. Gentleman. I recognise that ultimately migration must be the only course. It is exceedingly difficult to deal with it at present, but I want to stress the importance of providing opportunities, particularly for the young unmarried men. There are men in these districts who have never had any work at all, and the demoralisation that that involves is very grave. It has been represented to me that we might possibly find openings for them on the land. I do not know whether that is possible or not, but I suggest the proposal is worthy of consideration, but the right hon. Gentleman must depend, as he says, quite clearly on migration in order to meet the problem.
I would urge upon the House that they should realise the novelty of the situation in which we are faced. It is a situation that is occurring for the first time in our history in these single industry valleys, but it may occur in other districts in times to come when the population there becomes a stationary population. It has very nearly happened recently in the case of a seaside place, and any seaside place which for any reason loses its atmosphere of salubrity may become at any time the subject of a similar disaster to that which is happening in these South Wales valleys. Because it is a new problem it is one of exceptional difficulty. It is one which demands not merely constructive and administrative abilities but a certain amount of imagination. I have been very careful not to be recriminatory in my 854 speech. I have not attacked the Minister for his past action, though I could find a good many things if I wanted to. But with regard to the future, now that all the cards are on the table, now the right hon. Gentleman knows all the facts, a very grave measure of responsibility will rest upon him if he does not bring imagination as well as administrative ability to bear to solve what we all admit is a very difficult problem. But human life consists in struggling with problems that are difficult and solving them; and we look to the Minister, so long as he is a Minister, and to his successor when he is superseded, to solve this grave problem which confronts us in South Wales and in other parts of the country.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
I have listened with great interest to the Debate so far as it has gone. The ground has been very fully covered, but there are one or two points to which I should like to draw attention. I hope to imitate the tone of the last speaker in trying to deal with the problem in a nonpartisan spirit. It is very clear from the information given us by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, and by the Minister himself, that this problem really falls into two categories. There are certain areas, not only in South Wales but in other parts of the country, where the problem is mainly financial and where we hope to see large numbers of people in the near future re-employed in the industries in which they have been employed before. It has often been argued that the principle of local taxation is in itself out of date and bears with undue pressure upon productive industry, and, where the problem is financial, I am sure it is in the reorganisation of the system of local taxation by removing the undue pressure of that taxation upon these industries, and possibly in some final settlement being prepared to undertake some of the burden of debt that has been piled up by these areas, that we may be able to bring about a better state of things.
But it is clear also that there are certain areas where no financial reorganisation of any kind would meet the difficulty, where the industries are not being kept from recovery because of the burden of rates or because of the burden of unpaid debts and the interest upon those debts which the local authorities have 855 to carry, but where the industries have simply disappeared and are not likely to recover, for physical and not for financial reasons. That is to say, where the decayed industries are mainly based upon the getting of raw material, such as coal, they cannot be revived by any financial jugglery or by any reorganisation of the pressure of taxation if the supplies of raw material have given out. As regards the first category, one of the most curious features is that in those very areas which are mainly the subject of debate in South Wales, there is an astonishing difference in regard to the rate of unemployment. I see they run from as low as 3.9 per cent., which is a very low rate nowadays in this sort of industry, up to 51 per cent. You have an extraordinary range. If you look at the figures—I have a statement here containing a column giving these rates and percentages—there is an extraordinary variation.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
At Treharris. I see, looking down the column of all these places in Glamorgan and Monmouth, 27, 51, 9, 8, 6, 36, 37, 17, 28, 16 and so on. What I was pointing out was, where we see those comparatively low rates of unemployment, it looks as though the industries in those localities are not doing too badly or are likely to see recovery. It is exactly those localities which are likely to benefit by financial readjustments, because the more we are able to take the pressure of taxation off productive industries in this country, the more rapidly we may hope to see a revival of those localities. But in those localities where we find these very high rates of unemployment, clearly they belong to this second category where, as the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken truly said, there can be no recovery of industry capable of carrying the large population which it has been carrying in the past, where raw material has disappeared and where it is either worked out or can no longer be worked on an economic basis. With regard to those areas, it is clear, as all speakers have already stated, that the problem is one of transference of population. It can be dealt with in no other way than by taking all the possible means for the moving of the population 856 to other parts of the country and to other and growing industries. I think that in all parts of the House we were very glad to hear from the Minister of the increase of facilities for training centres, particularly for training centres for juvenile unemployed. I am sure that the Minister, and the Minister of Labour, will receive support from all parts of the House in the expenditure of public money on an increase of these training facilities, and, indeed, I think, as the Minister seemed to hint, he would receive support for the increase of compulsory powers for making young people attend. I do not think that in any part of the House it is questioned that the most important thing that can be done, and that the best help that can be given now, is the giving of facilities for the training of young persons who are at present unemployed.
The problem of transference as a whole clearly is a very difficult one. I do not think anyone seriously considering this question can hide from himself that it is going to be a long, difficult and tedious business. I am sure that the Minister is right in saying that we ought to be very careful to take no steps which would tend to hold the population to a derelict area rather than take steps which would facilitate its movement into a new area. The Transference Board, which is making a survey of these areas, will, I hope, give us very clear and definite information as to what parts of the country it really is proposing to schedule, as it were, under the character of devastated areas. Just as in the countries that were the scene of war there were certain areas which were devastated areas which had to be scheduled as such by the Governments that followed the War, so in this country there are clearly some areas which are the devastated areas of the country. They will have to receive special treatment, and every possible measure will have to be taken to facilitate the movement of population where the industries themselves disappear. I am not without hope that on careful examination it will be found that these areas will become less numerous than is commonly supposed. On the North-east Coast, in Durham, and in South Wales, in point of fact, the figures tend to show that, although it is perfectly true there are the special questions of the coal valleys where the coal 857 can no longer be worked, yet, taken as a whole, there are large areas where industry will recover and can recover, and where, more than any other measure that can be immediately taken by His Majesty's Government, any measure that tends to a reorganisation of the basis of local taxation, that makes it more equitable upon productive industry, will have the effect of, at any rate, making capital and making employment more mobile, even if it is difficult to make labour more mobile. It will have the effect of bringing work to labour, where populations exist, with their houses, and their homes and their institutions, and will bring new industries in places where it is economic and wise to do so.
In this way new industries may easily be brought to the localities where the populations are ready to work them. Though that will not apply, of course, to many areas, it will, I believe, apply to a great number of parts of this country which are at present very much burdened by the present character and the medieval system of our local taxation. I hope His Majesty's Government will take heart to press on with that problem, because by pressing on with that first side, as well as by the special treatment and the help the Transference Board may give to the other side of it, they may do a great deal for the relief of those which are, in fact, the devastated and desolated areas in this country which have suffered as a result of the War and the economic and financial difficulties which followed the War, just as have those areas which were themselves the scene of battle in the War
§ Mr. SPOOR
Like other Members on this side of the House. I must confess that I listened with considerable disappointment to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health this afternoon. It was, from every point of view, a disappointing speech, and one which most certainly will not satisfy those who are seriously concerned about the situation in those areas which are referred to as derelict areas to-day. Summed up, as far as I can see, the only message the right hon. Gentleman has given to this House and to the country is that there are millions of people suffering at the present moment, and that we can do nothing. They must depend upon public charity. Knowing something of 858 the independence of the men and women, at all events, on the South-east Coast, I can say that they do not want charity. All they ask for, and all that they have been fighting for, is simple justice. Until they get that, they certainly will not be satisfied.
A great deal has been said, quite rightly, about the appalling situation in the South Wales coalfield. That situation cannot be exaggerated. I have no intention of further referring to it, but I would like to say a few words regarding the situation in the county from which I come, and more particularly in regard to the constituency that I have the honour of representing in this House. I believe it is generally agreed that Durham county is probably the hardest hit of the coalfields, and certainly the Bishop Auckland district is the hardest hit in Durham county. I visited that town this weekend, and I talked with the clerk to the board of guardians. I got a mass of interesting information from him regarding the financial position of the board. I talked with the manager of the local Employment Exchange and got information from him regarding the situation as far as unemployment is concerned. It is impossible to impart by mere cold figures any real conception of the position as it is at present, and I, therefore, propose to quote only one or two. In the immediate district there are 14 collieries. Ten of those collieries are not working. Of the four that are supposed to be working, most of them are only working part time. Owners are allowing collieries, which some of us believe are not uneconomic collieries, to become derelict. This is a word that occurs a very great deal in debates like this. It impels one to ask oneself the question, why is it that collieries are becoming derelict?
The party to which I belong have pointed out for years why it is that the coal industry is not in the flourishing condition in which we believe it should be. Under the system that at present obtains, millions of tons of coal in my district have been irrecoverably lost, and if the present system of the ownership and control of the mines of this country is allowed to persist, a great deal more will be lost also. Not only that, but whole communities that have been built up through generations, nay, through centuries, are being destroyed. It is an 859 easy thing to talk about transference, but it is not always an easy thing to effect. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his speech this afternoon, said that in these processes of readjustment progress must necessarily be slow. We agree. But what is going to happen to those hundreds of thousands of people during that slow progress? What is going to happen to those children of whom we have heard this afternoon, and of whom those of us who have lived in mining areas are hearing every day, those children who unquestionably are suffering from malnutrition, those children who cannot get reasonable clothing, and who cannot secure decent boots?
On Saturday I was talking to a miner who was returned as one of the majority of Labour men for the Durham County Council. He told me that on the voting day, which was only a few days ago, there were two miners in his village, father and son, and that neither of them had yet come to vote. Someone went to see if they were coming. These men had worked hard and they had big families of children, and it was ascertained that there was only one pair of boots for the two men. They were thrifty, hardworking men, but had been out of employment for a considerable period. The old man put on the boots first and went to vote; then he returned home, took off the boots and his son put them on and went to vote. Are hon. Members surprised that Durham County is becoming so solidly Labour when conditions like that obtain? I have quoted an individual case. Similar cases could be multiplied all over Durham County, Wales, Scotland, Yorkshire and everywhere else.
I went along to see the manager of the Employment Exchange and to find out the figures. I ascertained from him that in that district we had 10,506 men and women on the live register last week. Add to them children and dependants. Then I turned to the guardians. What is their position? The Bishop Auckland Board of Guardians—the Minister of Health. I think, is as familiar as I am with the figures, at any rate, the Minister of Labour is—are in this position, that for the corresponding period of last year they were paying out-relief to 13,368 able bodied 860 men and to 11,313 women. These figures have risen in the corresponding period ending last week to 19,789 men and 17,811 women. The cost has risen from £12,605 for the corresponding period of last year to £18,779 for the 11 weeks of this year. I have a great mass of figures and they all prove one thing, that, slowly but certainly, this district, which was once one of the wealthiest in the country from the mining point of view, is going on the downward path of decay. The board of guardians, I believe, are £90,000 in debt. and last week they were £31,000 in arrears so far as their last rate was concerned In the urban district of Bishop Auckland the rates which, in the days when I was a member of that urban council, were about 6s. 6d. or 7s. in the £, are now 24s. 6d. In the rural district the rates are 23s. 2d. in the £. These figures are plus special rates in most townships amounting in some cases to 5s. 4d. per annum.
I would like the House to consider this question not simply from the point of view of the miners, their wives and children, but from the point of view of the whole community. Consider the terrible reaction of a state of affairs like this! Here you have a town with a population of 14,000 people, a town which has behind it a tradition of over 1,000 years, and surrounding it for several generations there have been a number of wealthy mining villages; wealthy, at all events, from the coal owners' point of view. The town has supplied the needs of those villages. Businesses have grown up and a large number of small tradesmen owe their existence to the prosperity of that particular area. Those traders are in many cases unable to pay their rates. What the future is going to reveal it is impossible for me to say, but all thinking men must be agreed that if this state of affairs continues there will be a terrific increase in the bankruptcies of the shopkeepers and tradesmen of most of the towns in these areas. A district rich in resources is being allowed to drift into ruin, and yet this Government have so far been able to suggest nothing beyond a kind of extension of the Charity Organisation Society, or some kind of training centres. We all would like an extension of training centres, provided they are properly equipped and sufficiently generous in scope; but this Government have done nothing.
861 Is there any statesmanship left in the Tory party? Have their ideas and their ideals of national government completely disappeared? What have they done to compel the mineowners in the whole of Britain to seek amalagamations so that they may eliminate unnecessary costs? Where have the Tory party risen above mere party considerations and lifted this question to a point from which it should always be regarded, namely, the national point of view?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Does the hon. Member imply that if there were amalgamation of collieries in the Auckland district that that would make prosperity for the district? That is the only implication of his argument.
§ Mr. SPOOR
The hon. Member is quite justified in making his own implication from my remarks. I assume that the intelligent persons in the House realise the real implication and that is, that by amalgamations, not necessarily limited amalgamations in a particular district but must larger amalgamations throughout the nation or, if you like nationalisation—
§ Mr. SPOOR
I am not talking about the 200,000 men out of work. I say that there would not be the closing down of so-called uneconomic pits, if unnecessary costs were eliminated. I think the hon. Member will agree that if we were to abolish a large number of the overhead charges that are necessitated by the present system of individual ownership and control we should enormously decrease the cost. That is not a party question at all.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I must ask hon. Members who do not agree with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Spoor) not to intervene.
§ Mr. SPOOR
I hope that I have said nothing too provocative, but I do think that it should be made clear that the Government have an immense responsibility in this matter in so far as they have not given effect to the recommendation of the experts, not confined to the Labour party but experts so far as the reorganisation of the mining industry is concerned. I contend that a fairly considerable amount of the costs of coal production could be reduced. I ask, again, whether the Government have done anything to show that they can see this problem from the national point of view. Their suggestion is charity, transference or emigration. Emigration! Well, it may be that certain of our Colonies need virile and vigorous men. It may be that there are great opportunities for men, women and children in those wider spaces, but we as a country need to be very careful and very wary unless we desire to see the young, vigorous, virile men, men of initiative, men of physical strength, leaving our shores and leaving behind them not only derelict villages but derelict men and women. That is the danger against which we have to safeguard ourselves.
One dare not dwell on the human side of this problem. I sometimes wish that some hon. Members who have not had the advantage of living among miners could see something of their living conditions to-day in certain areas. I wish they could move, as I did last Saturday, amongst men and women who had to walk seven miles into the town and seven miles back because they could not afford the few coppers necessary to pay the omnibus fare. These are men and women well up in years, who have given of their best to the community. To deal adequately with the human side of this problem is beyond my powers of description. We on these benches do not appeal to this Government for compassion. We believe that the fountains of compassion, so far as they are concerned, are completely dried up. If there is any lingering sense of justice, let the Government do what we asked them to do last Friday; let them abolish the Eight Hours Act, which would certainly give the mining industry a very much better chance.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
We cannot discuss legislation on this Motion. We 863 can only discuss such matters as can arise in Supply.
§ Mr. SPOOR
I quite appreciate your position, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I was simply asking whether or not the Government would adopt a certain course in order to deal with the deplorable conditions in this so-called derelict devastated area. If there remain any lingering sign of justice in the Government, we ask them to take that course, which we believe will be best, which is not only indicated but demanded by the overwhelming judgment of impartial experts and is most certainly supported by the intelligent section of the public.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The hon. Member who has just sat down has at any rate done this much. He has made a suggestion for dealing with the troubles we are discussing to-night. His suggestion is that we should amalgamate the mines of the Bishop Auckland district, and thus restore prosperity to the Durham coalfield—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That also would involve legislation. The Secretary for Mines has some powers in regard to amalgamation at the present moment, but I do not think that they are sufficient to carry out a scheme of nationalisation, and, as this would require legislation, it is out of order on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Practically, the whole speech of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Spoor) was devoted to that point. However, I must pass on, though the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in a previous discussion—here again I speak in fear and trembling of your ruling—and in the discussion to-day went very much in the direction of advocating legislation. To-day the right hon. Gentleman pointed out very truly that in respect of some of the mining districts of South Wales the local authorities there were completely involved in a vicious circle. He pointed out, in reference to Abertillery, Blaina and Nantyglo, that what was happening there was this, that the rising rates were such a burden on local colliery companies that a number of them were obliged to shut down; that this in its turn reacted upon the rates again by 864 reducing the rateable value of the district. Then the rates had to go up again and the raising of the rates brought down other colliery companies, which had to close their pits; that was the vicious circle which is being followed in these districts. That is the cause to a large extent of the trouble in the coal mining areas.
But observe where the argument leads us. The reason why these pits are shut is that the rising rates increase the cost of production, a thesis with which we all agree. But when we work out the actual increase in the cost per ton of coal of an increase in rates we find that it is a comparatively small addition to those costs. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that this burden of rising rates was shutting down pits, throwing men out of work and reacting most unfavourably on these devastated areas; but the same right hon. Gentleman only last Friday advocated and voted in favour of a return to the seven-hour day in the mines, which would add in these districts something like 2s. and 2s. 3d. to the cost per ton of coal produced, whereas, if you double, treble or quadruple the rates, it would not have anything like the same effect upon the cost of production. If the policy of the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party were adopted it would not be a case of one or two pits shutting down here and there, but the complete destruction of the industry.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member is again dealing with questions of policy which would require legislation.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I am not advocating legislation. I am contemplating the possibility of it and merely pointing out that such legislation would have a very bad effect upon the particular districts we are discussing now.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I admit, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that humble Backbench Members do find the Rules of Order on the Consolidated Fund Bill somewhat difficult to understand. In what follows, however, I think I am safe. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition also referred to the fact that many of these local authorities 865 are very heavily burdened, and some are almost bankrupt by the fact that they cannot get the rents for the houses which they built under the Addison and subsequent housing schemes, that in many cases these houses were becoming empty and derelict and that their borrowing powers were based largely on the security of these houses. If local authorities conduct their affairs in that way they are likely to go into bankruptcy. In my own district, where we have suffered as much as any district in the Country from unemployment—we have cotton operatives, iron workers, and three coal pits—we are not bankrupt. On the contrary, we show falling rather than rising rates, because we did not throw away the capital resources of our district in building houses under these ridiculous schemes of Dr. Addison and his successors. We are not bankrupt, and we have not spoilt our credit. We can go into the open market and get credit at under 5 per cent. What is the good of coming to us and advocating these ridiculous schemes which have bankrupted local authorities and then ask for pity because these authorities have conducted their affairs so foolishly that they find their security is gone and they have no borrowing powers left?
The really serious question we ought to consider is this. Our real trouble is that our Poor Law system has grown up on the basis of an endeavour to keep distressed persons within their own areas. We have evolved a geographical system of Poor Law relief, and the problem in the distressed mining areas is not the problem of keeping distressed persons within their own areas but exactly the opposite—the problem of getting distressed persons out of their own areas. The hon. and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Macmillan) gave some figures as to the proportion of unemployment in various districts in South Wales, and he made one deduction which is not entirely in accordance with the facts. He said that at Treharris there was an unusually small percentage of unemployment. Of the districts he mentioned, Treharris was best off. I speak subject to correction, because, it is some years since I was in Treharris, but I think it is as much dependent on the steam coal industry as any other district of South Wales, and the proportion of other industries available is very small. 866 The hon. and gallant Member attributed the position of Treharris to the existence of other industries which are absorbing the men.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
I quoted the figures in order to show that the position was not so hopeless as it appeared to be; that in the whole range of those areas they did not show such a hopeless position as was represented.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The hon. Member will forgive me for making what appears to be an incorrect deduction. In the case of Treharris, the real cause for the figures is this—here again I stand subject to correction—that it is right at the top of the Rhondda Fach.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
It is on the border of my own constituency, halfway between the Taff Valley and the Rhymney Valley.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Although I was wrong geographically, my point remains the same, that it is on a watershed, and therefore for men in these towns work is available both ways instead of one way. In every case where there are two valleys running up to a watershed, the men at the top of the valleys have a better chance of finding work.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
Merthyr Tydvil is right at the top of the valley, and the percentage of unemployed persons is 71 per cent., the highest in Wales.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Exactly. Beyond Merthyr Tydvil there is nothing but the hills. There is no alternative employment. North of Merthyr Tydvil you go clean off the coalfield. That is exactly the point I was trying to put forward. The problem is to get our Poor Law from the geographical basis on to some other basis, and to get rid entirely of the mediæval and Elizabethan idea that we ought to keep distressed persons in their own areas. We have to make a complete volte face and use every means in our power to get them out. What has been done in that direction already? The Unemployment Insurance Act which was passed last year will have an effect in this direction. It does bring certain additional pressure upon the men who are in these dead industries to get out from these dead industries and districts, 867 in which there is no work at the present time and no likelihood of there being work for the full number of men registered in the industry. At the time that Act was going through, I pointed out that it might be described as rather harsh and even cruel. So it is, but there are occasions in the lifetime of every nation when it is kinder to be cruel, in the first instance, rather than produce these devastated areas from which men cannot be moved by any means except something approaching slavery; by taking them in gangs, tearing them up by the roots, and putting them down wherever the Government thinks they ought to be put. That is about as much as any Government can do, no matter to what party the Government may belong. The Government can, with as reasonably a gentle hand as possible, put increased pressure upon men who live in devastated areas in the country; but beyond that I cannot see that any speaker so far, nor do I anticipate that any speaker who will take part in this discussion, can give any sort of hope of dealing with the situation. These men have to be moved from their districts and trades, and the only question before us is how to perform that cruel operation with the least possible hardship. That is the matter to which His Majesty's Ministers are devoting their attention.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. JENKINS
I am rather surprised at the reply we have had from the Minister of Health. I was expecting some information as to what he proposed to do with the various local authorities in South Wales who are in a very parlous condition and unable to proceed with any kind of work. The greater number of local authorities in that area are very anxious to put in hand some kind of work. The Minister of Health said that he was dealing with the question of slums. I want to remind him that a number of houses were condemned in the town of Neath in 1913, and from that time up to the present they have been appealing to the Department for power to demolish these houses and erect new ones. These houses, which were condemned in 1913, are still being occupied. He says that there is nothing disquieting in the South Wales coalfields. If he had gone round the areas, as I 868 have every week-end he would have come to the House with a scheme to alleviate the distress which exists. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have a scheme ready; instead of that he says that he is considering a scheme.
Surely, after all the privations suffered in South Wales for so long a period, the Minister ought to have some scheme ready? The people are suffering and the local authorities are so impoverished that they cannot do anything to assist the people. I was looking at a list of the rates paid in the Neath Rural District Council area. That council has been doing considerable work in assisting the unemployed. These are the rates that I find in the list for the present half year: Baglan Higher, 31s. in the £; Blaengwrach, 28s. 8d.; Blaenhonddan, 28s. 10d.; Clyne, 29s. 7d.; Coedffrane, 28s.; Dyffryn Clydach, 30s. 2d.; Dulais Higher. 30s. 2d.; Dulais Lower, 32s.; Michaelstone Higher, 33s. 10d.; Neath Higher, 28s. 2d.; Neath Lower, 29s. 8d.; Resolven. 33s. 8d.; Tonna, 29s. 6d. Those are areas in the Neath Rural District Council area, where they could put on unemployed men. There are roads to be made and houses to be built, but whenever they go to the Minister they are met with the reply,"You cannot borrow; you have no borrowing powers." The result is that these people are not able to do any kind of work. As a matter of fact the Neath Rural District Council, although they had appealed during the last three or four years for a grant from the Road Fund, received nothing. Yet last year they paid in that area over £26,000 for unclassified roads. When they made their appeal to the Minister there was money in the Road Fund, but they were refused anything towards the unclassified roads. Such a grant ought to be made. Then it would be possible to provide work for hundreds of men.
I noticed that in a reply to a question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) to-day, the Minister stated that in 1913 the number of people receiving poor relief at Neath was 2,899, in 1920 it was 2,864, but in 1927 the total had grown to 8,235, and in 1928 to 9,831. Those people, as my hon. Friend has said, are ready and willing to work but they cannot get work. They do not want the parish relief if work is available. Assistance in some form 869 should be given to these local authorities. I believe there is a way by which the Minister of Health could relieve the authorities of the heavy loans and the heavy interest that has to be paid on loans. Before the War loans were obtained at 2, 2½, 2¾, 3 and 3¼ per cent., but now no loan can be got at under 5 per cent., and during the last couple of years it has been 6 and even 7 per cent. in the case of some authorities. I know authorities which at the moment are paying to the Public Works Loans Commissioners 6 per cent. for loans over which the Government have control. I think the Minister of Health could do much in providing employment for these people instead of allowing so many of them to seek relief.
A question was raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the Glyncorrwg Urban District Council. In that parish the whole of the collieries practically are closed down. The hon. and gallant Member for Stockton (Captain Macmillan) referred to Treharris. He said that there were only 3 per cent. unemployed there. The 3 per cent. at Treharris have some effect upon the parish of Glyncorrwg. In that parish of Glyncorrwg the Ocean Coal Company has a large colliery at Abergwynfi, which usually employs 1,000 men. That colliery has been idle for about five years. Last year the employers appealed to the workmen for a reduction in wages, and they got a reduction which brought the wages down to the lowest possible point under the Act. They worked only eight weeks, and then the company closed the collieries and they have been closed ever since. They are working Treharris in full to keep the other collieries idle altogether, and in that area there are no collieries working at all. Rates are 34s. 4d. in the pound in the parish of Glyncorrwg. Up to 1925 it was possible in that parish to collect all the rates except about £3 or £4. From that time onwards the whole of the industries in the area have been closed down.
A very unfortunate thing happened in connection with the Glyncorrwg parish. When the Glyncorrwg Colliery Company went into liquidation a Receiver was put in possession. That was in June 1925. From then up to the present time the rates have not been paid by the Official Receiver, nor has the Official Receiver paid any compensation for the workmen 870 of Glyncorrwg and Abergwynfi in those collieries. Repeated appeals have been made to the Court but nothing has been done. The Receiver has secured between £4,000 and £5,000 out of the assets of these collieries, but he has not contributed one penny to the rates. At the Imperial Navigation Colliery we have a similar position. The 1,250 workmen are idle. No compensation has been paid to those men, and they are not entitled to unemployment benefit, though permanently injured. They have had to resort to parish relief. There are in that parish to-day nearly 100 workmen who are unable to get unemployment benefit. They have to depend entirely upon parish relief because of the bankruptcy proceedings. The colliery company owed to the district council about £3,600 in rates. That money has not been paid and will not be paid until the proceedings in the Courts are completed. Yet during the same period the landowners who own a plot of land and leased some coal to this company during the period that it has been in existence, and had paid in dead rent, although they have not worked a pound of coal, no less than £40,000, were the first persons to issue a writ. That is the kind of thing that ought not to be allowed to continue. These landowners have no responsibility at all.
A statement has already been made as to the good feeling existing between the South Wales coalowners and the South Wales miners' representatives, and I am delighted that they have made an effort to solve the problem of the industry in South Wales. I am rather surprised at the very cold reception that their proposals have had in the various Departments of the Government. I would have liked the Prime Minister to have met the coal-owners and the representatives of the workmen in connection with this matter. Here are some figures relating to royalties, and they show that South Wales is hit more hardly than any other part of the country. In Great Britain, excluding South Wales, the royalties were: For the quarter ended March, 1927. 5.63d.; June quarter 5.79d.; September quarter 5.64d. per ton. In South Wales and Monmouthshire the figure for the March quarter was 8.89d. per ton; June quarter, 8.96d.; and for the September quarter 9d. per ton. These figures show that there is a difference adverse to South Wales, compared with other parts of 871 Great Britain, of 3¼d. a ton. That, of course, is all against the industry in South Wales. It is a point with which no attempt has been made to deal. I should have thought that the Government would have taken some steps. We hear the Secretary for Mines say, in answer to questions, that he is sorry he cannot interfere and that he has no power to interfere. Here is an opportunity for him to interfere. There are collieries in South Wales now, I am positive, that are idle in consequence of the large sum of money which is extracted for royalties. There is a shilling a ton and even 1s. 1d. a ton in some instances. That means that a huge sum is extracted from the industry. I hope that the Secretary for Mines will assert himself and that we shall get greater things from the Mines Department than we have had hitherto.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Lord Eustace Percy)
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that that action could be taken by the Secretary for Mines without legislation?
§ Mr. JENKINS
Certainly; it could be done easily. Why could he not interview the large owners and get at the right people? If I wanted to see the Noble Lord about his land, in order to get a reduction of royalties, I should approach him first of all. That is the thing to be done. I feel sure that I would get a reduction from the Noble Lord if I went about it in the proper way. I admit that I am an optimist. The Secretary for Mines ought to take some such steps. South Wales is suffering to-day more than any other part of the country. A statement about unemployment in the coal industry has been prepared by the coalowners and the representatives of the South Wales miners, and from that statement I get the following figures. In North Wales there were 18,000 insured, of whom 1,500 are unemployed. In South Wales and Monmouth the approximate number of insured persons is 264,000 and the number wholly unemployed in October was 45,568, and the number temporarily unemployed was 42,814. The percentage in October was 33.5 and on 21st November the percentage was 29.3. On 19th December the percentage of miners idle in Wales was 31.4. The percentage of unemployed in all British coal 872 fields in October was 18.7, in November 18.5, and on 19th December 17.3. In all British industries the percentage of unemployed in December, 1927, was 9.8 as compared with a percentage of 31.4 in the case of the South Wales miners.
I think if the Secretary for Mines, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Transport were to assist the local authorities in South Wales some good results might accrue. They will have to come to the rescue. Something must be done. It has been suggested that a number of children are suffering in Glamorganshire, and that is true. Some of them are suffering from lack of nourishment. As the Leader of the Opposition has rightly said, they are getting some assistance locally, but it is nothing compared to what is required. I visited a place yesterday and saw a large number of these children. The President of the Board of Education has been very kind, and I appreciate the services which he has rendered at this very place, where a sum of £100 has been sent, but although 150 children in the area of Glyn-corrwg had boots last week, not half the children I saw yesterday had boots. Practically all the children in that area require boots and clothing and the nourishment which they are receiving is very bad. I trust that steps will be taken without delay to alleviate this distress which is more pronounced in South Wales than in any other part of the country—with very few exceptions. I do not think there is anything in any other part of the country to compare with the suffering which we find in these areas at the present moment, and I hope the Minister of Health will, without delay, grant something to the local authority which will enable them to relieve the situation before the next rate is made at the end of this month.
§ Major OWEN
It seems to me there are three important points to be taken into consideration in dealing with this issue. Distress we know is prevalent in the South Wales area and other coal areas throughout the country. The decline in employment is well brought out by the figures when we take them in conjunction with each area separately. For instance, we find that South Wales has ceased to find employment for 46,200 miners in the past two years. In the same period Durham has ceased to find employment 873 for 31,200, Lancashire for 14,000 and Northumberland for 12,000. These figures show the enormous effect of unemployment in the coal areas and that is further illustrated if we take individual cases throughout the country. In the case of Bishop Auckland, 40 per cent. of the total insured male population was registered as unemployed in February. In Chopwell, the figure was 32.1 per cent. Cockfield 54.7 per cent.; Durham City 52.7 per cent.; South Shields 36.9 per cent. In South Wales and Monmouthshire the position is even worst. In Merthyr Tydvil 71.9 per cent. of the insured male population are unemployed; in Blaina 61.2 per cent. In Cymmer 54.8 per cent. and in Ystalyfera, Aberdare, Pontlottyn, Dowlais, Pontnewydd and Ferndale between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. But that is not the whole point. In addition to the total unemployment we get short time, as well. In the first quarter of 1926 the average number of days worked by miners in South Yorkshire was 5.47 per week, in the last quarter of 1927 it was 4.88. The corresponding figures for West Yorkshire are 5.45 and 4.25; for Lancashire and Cheshire 5.00 and 4.12; for Derbyshire 5.52 and 4.27; for Notts and Derby 5.47 and 4.12.
That brings us to another effect of the serious conditions prevailing in these districts. We have not only the effect on employment, but also the effect on earnings. Earnings in Great Britain in November, 1927, were 8 per cent per day lower than the figure for the first quarter of 1926. Now the earnings per week reflect also the effects of short time. They were 19.4 per cent. lower in November, 1927, than the first quarter of 1926. Those figures show clearly that in the areas which have been mentioned, conditions at present are much worse than they have been for a very long time. When the Minister of Health addressed the House one was led to believe by his sympathetic treatment of the subject at the beginning of his speech that he was going to place before us some definite proposals for dealing with the serious position in these distressed areas; but, having listened very carefully to him, I felt, as I am sure other hon. Members felt, that the right hon. Gentleman had failed to put any new proposals before the House. He recalled a speech which he made some time ago, and mentioned various palliatives which 874 had been adopted, but he did not even tell us how those palliatives were affecting the figures in the areas concerned.
We know of the Transference Board, but that Board has now been in existence for some time, and what is the result? Unemployment, instead of decreasing, is constantly increasing, and it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman's speech in effect amounted to this. "The Government cannot do anything; pass round the hat." That is the sum and substance of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It is not my wish, and I am sure it is not the wish of my hon. Friends above the Gangway, to make any party capital out of this question. It is not a question of party. It is a human question, and it is the duty of the Government to tackle it immediately and not to spend time dawdling with futile palliatives, as they have been doing. There is suffering, there is want, there is starvation in the country as a result of the practically unheard-of conditions now prevailing in those areas, and I appeal strongly to the Minister of Health, the President of the Board of Education, and the Secretary for Mines, to set themselves immediately to this task and to let us see some result of the work of their Departments in alleviating the misery of these people and doing something tangible to help them.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
The constituency which I represent was, two generations ago, very much in the same position as those unhappy parts of the country which we have been discussing this afternoon. About 50 years ago the main, if not the only industry in North Derbyshire, was lead mining. Owing to the discovery of great new veins of lead in Spain and elsewhere, calamity descended suddenly upon that district, and the lead mines there were no longer operated. I have often wondered, as I have travelled through that district, and noticed the remains of the old workings and the abandoned pitheads, what would have been the result had there existed in those days the means which exist now of retaining a population in a district when an industry is losing ground? I am almost convinced that, although the lead miners of those days went through a period of bitter hardship and cruel suffering, yet if palliatives such as hon. Members on the Socialist benches have been suggesting to-day had been applied to 875 their case, and if public assistance had been afforded to retain them in that district, their fate in the long run would have been vastly worse than it actually was.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Does the hon. Member suggest for a moment that the number of persons employed in the Derbyshire lead mines was at all comparable with the number in the coal industry in South Wales?
Marquess of HARTINGTON
The number of men in the case I have mentioned may have been comparatively small, but that has nothing to do with the case. It is merely an example, and you may expand your problem to any extent you like without affecting the main issue. As I said, I believe that, in the long run, it would have been a misfortune, had those lead miners been retained on the site of that ruined industry. In the same way I hope that those who have to consider this problem of distressed areas will look a long way ahead before deciding to give assistance such as hon. Members have been demanding to-day. Hon. Members on the Labour Benches have, one and all, asked for public assistance and, in that connection, I was interested to hear the very sharp distinction drawn by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Spoor) between private and public assistance. He sternly repudiated the idea of private assistance, but he demanded public assistance. It seems to me that the only difference between the two is that private assistance comes from those who can afford it, while public assistance comes both from those who can afford it and from those who cannot afford it.
Hon. Members ought to remember that there is another side to this dark picture. You have in some districts, unhappily, industries collapsing, the rates on industry very high, terrible unemployment and great poverty. But new industries are growing up in other parts of England, and it seems to me it would be definitely wrong to strangle those new and developing areas by adding to their burdens for the benefit of other areas which, for one reason or another, suffer distress at the present time. The operation which hon. Members suggest is really the transfusion of blood from the young 876 and healthy parts of the industries of the country to the older. Transfusion of blood may, under certain conditions, be a necessary and a successful operation, but it can only be a wise operation under exceptional circumstances, and I would appeal to my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Government Bench to be extremely careful before acceding to these requests to assist, out of public funds, those parts of the country which are going through distress at the present time.
An area may become necessitous for any one of a number of reasons. It may go through a temporary crisis, and in that case there may be, and probably is, a case for temporary assistance out of public funds. It may go through a crisis as the result of a long period of misgovernment, of extravagant government and over-expenditure, and that, unfortunately, is undoubtedly the case in many districts of England at the present time. It may go through a period of distress as the result of the failure of its natural resources, of changes in the currents of trade which leave it derelict, and in that case any attempt to assist that district and keep it alive at the expense of other, growing districts can only have the effect of prolonging the misery in the affected district and of retarding or hindering the advancement of the newer. I hope very sincerely that hon. Members above the Gangway will learn—because, I suppose, the day will come, sometime, when they will have an opportunity of putting their theories into practice—the lesson that all public assistance, in the last resort, falls upon industry. Industry will have to provide it, and if they are going to add to the burden of the thriving industries in order to maintain the moribund, they are doing a very grave disservice to the people whom they are attempting to assist, and they are hindering and retarding the development of new industries that is taking place to-day.
§ Mr. JOHN
We have listened for some time to Debates upon this question, but while we have been discussing the matter on several occasions here, the suffering in the areas affected has been going on. The Noble Lord the Member for Western Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington), who has just spoken, put forward the proposition that the proposals made from these benches would not in any way prove a solution or assist the 877 problem under discussion. I do not know whether the suggestion that has been made, of co-operation between the heads of the various Government Departments, as to the finding of ways and means for the provision of work and for the provision of money from the Treasury, would not ameliorate the condition of the people. What has been the suggestion put forward by the Government? The Minister of Health made no tangible suggestion at all. All that he said was that possibly the best method would be to set up a public fund for South Wales and for Durham, and that we should make an appeal to the country for funds to be sent to South Wales and to Durham in order to alleviate the distress that prevails in those areas. I listened to see whether the Minister of Health was not going to suggest a national flag day for this question, or possibly a circular from the Cabinet to be sent round the country, or a suggestion that during the summer months the Cabinet should join Jack Hylton's band, and go round the sands at the various seaside resorts of the country to collect money for the distressed areas of Durham and South Wales.
Contributing private funds will not solve the problem. We are asking for public assistance, because the conditions of to-day are to be attributed entirely to the policy of the present Government in changing the relationship of national and local government, in transferring to local authorities responsibilities and financial obligations which it was never intended they should bear. It was never intended that the local authorities should bear the burden of the unemployed, and, as a result of having to bear that burden, the rates have increased tremendously. In addition to getting public funds, it has been suggested that the Transference Board is going to have a tremendous influence on the problem that exists in these necessitous areas. It is all very well to argue for the operations of the Transference Board, but one would assume that there is sufficient work available in this country, and that it is impossible to get people to do it. Have the Government considered the advisability of, in the first instance, providing work? Have they considered the question of harnessing the requirements of the men to the activities of the 878 nation? Where are you going to transfer them? Have the Government made any preparations for the provision of work in other parts of the country? The existence of the Transference Board does not in any way settle this problem or touch the fringe of the question unless, corresponding with the existence of the Board, provision is made for available work.
The Transference Board at the present time is going round the country. It has already been in the Rhondda, but it is not a question of going to the Rhondda at all. We know, and the Government know, that there is no work there. We know, and they know, that there are unemployed in the Rhondda and other parts of South Wales, and it is a question, not of making investigations as to the conditions there, but of the bringing forward of provision for the transference of the Rhondda, people elsewhere. The Minister of Health attempted to justify the position by saying that the suffering is not quite so bad as it is made out to be, because otherwise the local authorities would not be solvent or would not be so successful as they are. Incidentally, he brought in Abertillery and the Rhondda as illustrations of the successful operation of local government work. Let us take the Rhondda, for a moment. If the Minister of Health contends that the district council of the Rhondda is solvent, let us consider at what a cost. At the present time, the report of the medical officer of health for the Rhondda certifies that there is a large number of children in the Rhondda area suffering from malnutrition because of lack of nourishment, and a large number of children are absent from school because they have no clothing or no boots in which to attend school. The Rhondda education authority are neglecting the provision of clothing and food for the children because they have not got the money to spend in those directions.
The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) referred to the fact that the provision of housing schemes by local authorities largely accounts for those authorities not being in the financial position in which they ought to be, but that does not apply to the Rhondda. There have been no housing schemes there. The average number of houses that have been built in the Rhondda 879 Valley in the last 10 years is about 25, and, therefore, the argument that the housing schemes embarked upon are responsible cannot be justified in this case. The position of the urban authority in the Rhondda Valley is such because it has had to neglect its natural functions and has been unable to carry on the work which it really ought to have done. It has been unable to provide houses for the inhabitants and to provide the necessary food and clothing for the children who are attending school and who are absent from school because they have failed to attend. That is the position so far as the local authority is concerned.
Then, if we take the conditions locally, its reflex can be seen in the condition of the business people, a large number of whom during the last two or three years have had to go through the throes of bankruptcy. A large number at the present time are practically on the eve of bankruptcy. Prosperous towns in the Rhondda Valley where you had large business premises and business centres are at present derelict villages. Then you have the suffering of the people. The unemployed in the Rhondda Valley number from 14,000 to 15,000. The reduction in the population of the Rhondda Valley in 1927, as compared with 1926, was over 5,000. They have gone somewhere, they have floated from the Rhondda Valley, but notwithstanding the fact that there has been a reduction of 5,000 in the population as compared with 1926, what has happened? What is the good of transferring people from the Rhondda Valley into other parts of the country if the Minister of Labour is increasing the number of people in the Rhondda Valley who are not entitled to receive unemployment benefit? Some 5,000 people were removed from the Rhondda Valley last year, and 1,000 people were deprived of their unemployment benefit by the Minister of Labour in the same year. You cannot attempt to relieve the situation, on the one hand, by the operations of a Transference Board, and, on the other hand, increase the difficulties and the suffering by adding to the number of people who are going to be dependent on the rates in that locality.
The rates have a material bearing on this question. The increase in the rates in the Rhondda Valley has been 287 per 880 cent. compared with 1913, and to the extent that there has been an increase in the rates, it has had its effect on the collieries. Collieries are stopping, and naturally, as the rateable value is dependent on the tonnage, to the extent that the collieries stop, the revenue of the local authorities diminishes. Therefore, the situation becomes increasingly difficult. The unemployed are increasing, the suffering is becoming more intense, and at the same time the rates are rising. There was a suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition that the Government should seriously consider the question of loans. The Pontypridd Board of Guardians have at the present time over £500,000 on loan, and the suggestion has been made that the Government should take into consideration the removing of the burden of that loan from the Pontypridd Board of Guardians on to their own shoulders.
Why not? We, on this side, are very often taunted with thinking more of foreigners than of our own countrymen, but the same taunt applies to the Government. They cancelled a large portion of the loans to France and Italy, and they have applied to France, Italy and Belgium conditions which they ought to apply to our own people in this country. Therefore, the question of loans which are a heavy burden upon the local authorities, the question of attempting to get a co-ordination among the various Ministries and Departments of the Government, in order to meet the difficulties of the local authorities, which would tend towards the provision of work and the reduction in rates, should be seriously considered by the Government as a solution, or at least a temporary solution, of the problem we are discussing.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I hesitate to enter into this Debate, because I have no direct or technical knowledge of the industry, but I have listened with great interest to the speeches which have been made, and particularly to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, and it struck me that, although all the speeches were interesting and gave a full description of the distressing state of affairs in the coal mining districts, particularly in South Wales, Durham and Northumberland, almost every hon. Member is aware, or should be aware, of those conditions, and merely reiterating what everybody knows, or 881 ought to know, does not get us much further. The Leader of the Opposition made some observations about the kind of relief that might be given by the Government to these distressed areas, but every suggestion that he made was not really much more than a palliative. It seems to me that the only way to bring any real, permanent relief that will be worth while to these distressed mining areas, is to get the coal industry as a whole once more upon a sound, solid, economic basis. During last century the conditions were so completely different that I do not think the coal-owners have yet had time to adapt themselves, or to adjust their minds, to the changed conditions of the present day. Last century demand consistently exceeded potential supply, and all the coal-owner had to do was, quite independently of his fellows, to produce as much coal as he could in the shortest possible time. Conditions are completely changed now, because demand no longer exceeds potential supply. As a matter of fact, potential supply far exceeds demand.
In these new circumstances and under these new conditions, it seems to me that only two alternatives present themselves. Either there must be what I may perhaps describe as a war of attrition, involving weak selling, price-cutting and the supremacy of the merchant, or rationalisation and reorganisation of the industry, and co-operative selling. Unless we adopt the second alternative—and I believe there are good grounds for supposing that we are going to do so—we shall never get any measure of real prosperity, the kind of prosperity that matters, back to these distressed areas. Hitherto, the coalowners, it must be admitted, have adopted the first alternative, the policy of unrestricted competition, with disastrous results; consequently there is in the industry severe unemployment and low wages, and, as a result, distressed areas. We may be able to deal with unemployment, and we may in other industries, be able to deal with low wages, but when we have unemployment, short time and low wages, all in the same district, it is almost impossible to deal with it. We have a problem which is very nearly insoluble, and that is the main cause of the terrible distress which gives rise to such grave anxiety. In spite of this the industry as a whole is not paying its way. The 882 export industry is making heavy and steady losses. The problem is very formidable, and it will never be solved by mere palliatives, such as were suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. We must, first, get the industry on a sound basis; in other words, it must be adequately organised to meet the requirements of modern industry; secondly, it must be made to pay; and, thirdly, there must be a decent standard of wages for those engaged in it. This brings me to a question which I want to ask hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I believe we are faced in this industry with two alternatives. Either you want to employ the maximum number of people working short time, at what I can only regard as inadequate wages, or you are going, in the changed conditions of the modern era, to employ a very much less number of people working full time at good wages. You must make your choice, and all hon. Members will sooner or later have to make that choice. Which policy are they going to adopt? To employ the maximum number of people at miserable wages, or a much less number of people at good decent wages? would unhesitatingly choose the second of the alternatives, and I am certain that, if everybody engaged in the industry made up their minds to go for the second policy, we should quickly see a great restoration of prosperity and a considerable diminution of hardship in the distressed areas. After all, when we come to the other suggested remedies, what do we find? The raising of the school age has been suggested, but the number of boy entrants into the mining industry is negligible for all practical purposes, and although, on other grounds, the raising of the school age may be desirable, it cannot be seriously put forward as a solution of the problem of the distressed areas. Then the question of pensions for mine workers over 60 years of age has been raised by the Labour party. There are 70,000 of these, and to take them out of the industry and to give them a pension which must be not less than £1 a week if we are to get them out would cost nearly £4,000,000 a year. Where can that money come from? It cannot come out of the industry. which makes no profit. It must, therefore, come from the general body of taxpayers, and I do not think that those engaged in other industries would for a 883 moment tolerate a special pension fund for miners, to be subscribed for by the general body of taxpayers. That cannot seriously be suggested as a solution of the problem. The stopping of recruitment from outside areas has been suggested. But there is very little inflow from outside areas into any mining district, and a voluntary arrangement already exists between the Miners' Federation and the Mining Association to check to the greatest extent such an inflow from one district to another.
Then there is the question of transferring unemployed miners from one area to another. Obviously, that ought to be done to the maximum possible extent, and the Transfer Committee is an admirable body for the purpose, but do not tell me that that is going to solve the problem of the distressed areas. The only areas with any demand for workers are South Yorkshire, Warwick, Kent and Nottinghamshire, but that demand is not big. It has been estimated that the demand in those districts for new miners, at the maximum, is 10,000 a year. There are already 200,000 men unemployed in the industry, so here again that is not going to make a very substantial difference. Finally we come to the question of the relief of rates. It is almost impossible again to differentiate as between industries. The same argument applies to this problem as to the pension fund for miners. I do not see why we should differentiate between the mining industry and any other industry. Other industries would justifiably resent it. If the Government could possibly give some relief of rates to all industries engaged in production, that would be by far the best solution to this problem that could possibly be arrived at, but in the present condition of the finances of the country, that is obviously an extremely difficult matter. Short of that, I am opposed to the giving of preferential treatment to the mining industry as such, either by means of pensions or rates, merely because it happens to be in severe distress. The fishing industry has been and is in severe distress; how could I go and ask them in my constituency to sanction special expenditure on the mines? It cannot be done. There would be innumerable and justifiable protests. No. If you are to do anything in that line, 884 it must be done for the whole of productive industry, or not at all.
I do not think that heroic remedies are possible. But I would ask the Government to consider this point. In a speech on the Second Reading of the Unemployment Insurance Bill, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockton (Captain Macmillan) divided the classes of unemployed into three. First, to use colloquial language, there were the "down and outs," and obviously the proper place for them is the parish and the guardians. Secondly, there were what I may call the "in and outs," the people engaged in an industry subject to trade cycles and fluctuations, who found themselves temporarily out of work. Their proper place is the insurance scheme, and they will be protected by that scheme. The third category, which, I cannot help thinking, will have to be separated from all other classes of unemployed, consists of those who, owing to a changed world and to conditions for which they are not themselves in any way to blame, can never again obtain employment in their own industry. There are about 200,000 of these in the mining industry, and I am not at all sure that the nation ought not to assume a certain measure of responsibility for them. I will not develop such ideas as training schemes and emigration, but if these men could be segregated—and it is going to be a difficult business—I think the nation could justifiably assume some measure of responsibility for their training and their future, without rousing any particular resentment in other trades.
I am emphatically opposed to any subsidy, in any shape or form, to the mining industry as such. We have had experience of one such subsidy; it was not very successful in action, and I hope we shall never have subsidies again for any industry. I would like to say a word about the industry as a whole, because it is really only a gradually increasing prosperity that will get rid of these distressed areas. We can have palliatives, but the distress will go on until we can get a better organisation in the industry. In 1926 the majority of the Lewis Committee reported strongly in favour of organised marketing, but they said that they regarded as a necessary antecedent to this the consolidation of the industry into a far smaller number of units. The 885 Minority Report of the Committee was uncompromising. This minority is still in existence, and during the last two years has dominated the conduct of the coal industry in this country. This minority really advocated unrestricted and unorganised competition, which involved, for a period at any rate, low wages and long hours. During 1926 they proclaimed on several occasions that if they could only get their way, they would in a short time restore a considerable amount of prosperity to the industry. They got their way, and look at the result! They have reduced the export coal industry to complete chaos and penury, and it has cost the industry a sum estimated at between £6,000,000 and £8,000,000.
I do not think, in the face of this, that their policy can be claimed to have been a success. I think it has been a failure. They have had a long run—too long a run—and it is now time to adopt the alternative policy of co-operation, which, wherever tried, has never failed yet. The most encouraging thing at the moment is the fact that from all appearances it is undoubtedly true that most of our leading coal-owners have come to that conclusion, and are apparently determined to put the policy of co-operation into practice as soon as they possibly can. I am not going to enter into the details of the schemes which have been put forward. There is the Midland scheme, there is the Welsh scheme, and finally there is the Scottish scheme. I would like to draw serious attention to certain features of the Scottish scheme which seems to me different from the other schemes inasmuch as it is more ambitious and more hopeful than any scheme hitherto adumbrated. The essence of the Scottish scheme is a differential price as between unsheltered and sheltered consumers, and the organised closing of uneconomic collieries with compensation from a common fund formed by a levy of 6d. per ton on home sales. It is a revolutionary scheme, and it has received a great deal of attention in the Scottish Press, though not as much in the English Press. It endeavours to supplant the hitherto impregnable positon occupied by the buying organisations and to supplant that organisation by a producers' association. I submit that this scheme is in 886 essence fully justified and ought to receive encouragement from every section of the House. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Ellis) summed up the position thus when he said:We have the raw material; we have been producing a great deal too much of it, but in the future we are going to produce just enough for the needs of the nation, and we are going to sell that material so as to get a decent wage and a decent return on our capital. That is the position I take up"—continued the hon. Member—and it is a position in which we can stand firmly and four square."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd March, 1928; col. 757, Vol. 215.]I think he is perfectly right. Why are the owners of the Scottish pits going to differentiate in price between sheltered and unsheltered consumers? The railway rates and dock charges in Scotland amount to 3s. 2d. per ton as against 1s. 9d. in 1914, or an increase of 81 per cent. F.o.b. prices are nearly on the 1914 level, so that in many cases pithead prices of coal in Scotland are lower than what they were before the War. That disposes of the charge of inefficiency and inadequate equipment; and I think it is impossible to suppose that the Scottish coal-owners can continue to permit the railways and docks to pay far higher wages than they do and at the same time to take £3,000,000 a year out of the Scottish coal industry. Therefore, either the railways and docks must reduce their charges, or they must expect to be called upon to pay more for the coal they consume. I am only going, before I sit down, to quote a few sentences from an article by one of the leading Scottish owners, Mr. Wallace Thorneycroft, published in the "Glasgow Herald" the other day. It seems to me to be of tremendous importance. He says:In November last, when it became abundantly clear that the British prices of coal no longer governed European prices, and that the control of prices of coal had, in fact, passed into the hands of the foreigners, the Scottish coalowners agreed that the time had arrived when co-operative action was necessary, and similar decisions were come to in most of the English districts about the same time. … The form that this co-operative action should take has been the subject of long and earnest consideration, and each district of the country will no doubt deal with the problem in the way best suited to its local conditions.The problem before the Scottish coal industry is to raise at the lowest possible cost under present conditions the maximum quantity 887 of coal saleable at an average price which will yield a profit of at least a few pence per ton calculated on the principles defined by the present wages agreement.The view was expressed by some, and is held by many more in high places outside the history that the only form of co-operation which would provide a complete solution of the problem is amalgamation of the colliery undertakings. It may be so, but such an amalgamation, even if it came to be accepted in principle, would take time to materialise. Meanwhile, heavy losses are being incurred by the industry as a whole. As the discussions proceeded it was clear that all agreed that, when the potential output exceeds the demand, prices are cut in the endeavour by each colliery company to keep their costs down by working the pits full time, and therefore that the first thing to be done was to balance supply and demand.If this is done, it will enable all working pits to go full time, raising at the lowest possible cost the maximum quantity of coal that can be disposed of and unnecessary cutting of prices will cease, provided that not less than 90 per cent. of the Scottish output is included in the scheme. It is no part of the scheme to reduce the actual output raised as compared with the last nine months, but fewer pits and fewer men will be employed to raise it. It was also agreed that to induce the owners of collieries to close temporarily as many pits as may be required to balance supply and demand, it would be necessary and equitable to pay them some compensation, and it is estimated that the cost of such compensation would be less than the cost of working a much larger number of pits short time. …Such is the scheme recommended by the representatives of the great majority of the coalowners of Scotland who have been most earnestly examining their industrial organisation, as the Prime Minister advises.The scheme is no doubt a compromise, and many think it does not go far enough, but if it is accepted unrestricted competition will cease, and the scheme is capable of expansion as experience may prove desirable. The immediate result will be that some pits will be closed, thus increasing unemployment in the coal industry. These pits, however, will be available when required to meet any increased demand.I am sure hon. Members opposite will forgive me when I say that it is characteristic of them when one of these schemes is announced in this House that they get up and cross-examine the Secretary for Mines in a hostile way and ask how many men will be thrown out of work. They must make up their minds that, if the industry is to be properly organised and if you are going to give the coal-owners a chance of operating a reasonable scheme to improve the 888 standard of living of the men, uneconomic pits will have to be closed down and men thrown out of the industry. But if we only have to deal with definite unemployment we shall have a far easier problem than we have to deal with at the present time, when short time, miserable wages, and distressed areas form in combination an almost insoluble problem. I do not want to labour the point, but once you have established control over coal production and prices so far as exports are concerned you are in a very strong position; you have a machine at the head of your industry which is capable of fighting the Continent with a minimum of inconvenience to home producers, or alternatively of negotiating agreements. In the matter of international co-operation, as the "Financial Times" points out:Germany no less than Great Britain is tired of this intensive competition, and also is seeking means to thwart it, while even Polish Silesia, which must be accounted the culprit in forcing the pace, cannot go on cutting prices indefinitely. There are signs that even there the limit has been reached. Anything like a concerted movement to re-establish remunerative prices in the coal industry here and on the Continent would turn the tables on the foreign consumers to their undoing. That is not so impossible as it may appear to them.I have not the slightest doubt myself that if anything like a concerted movement to re-establish prices here and on the Continent were to take place you would immediately restore a greater measure of prosperity to the industry than in any other way, because if you have a measure of international agreement, even if it only covers quotas, you will immediately get stabilised prices and markets, and the alternative is unrestricted competition abroad, with unremunerative prices, dumping, tariffs, subsidies, and so forth. If the Government were to consider seriously the possibility of dealing with these unemployed miners in a separate category, and including in their number all young members of an industry who cannot reasonably be expected ever again to obtain employment in that particular industry, if they would endeavour to segregate that class and deal with it separately, and if they also give every encouragement and assistance to the coalowners to amalgamate and form cooperative selling agencies on the lines to which they have set their hands, I 889 believe in a short space of time we shall find ourselves in an improved position. I believe that on these lines only will the problem of the distressed areas be solved.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
I have heard the speech of the hon. Member, and I think he opened his remarks by saying that he did not understand much about our industry, but he then proceeded to make suggestions, one of which was that he thought one of the remedies for solving the problems of the mining industry to-day was the organisation of that industry. We on this side of the House agree with that suggestion, but I do not believe that it will be found so to-day so far as the Debate is concerned, because we are more concerned with some immediate Government assistance to deal with the distress and destitution that is prevailing in South Wales. The Leader of the Opposition dealt mainly with the report of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). I am going to deal with the very serious effects of the high rates and the destitution in South Wales, and their effect on other important industries such as steel and tinplate and the galvanising industry of this country.
During the week-end I had handed to me another very valuable and important report that I believe was submitted to some of the Ministers by the coalowners and the miners' representatives of South Wales a week or two ago. I have been analysing this report. The Minister of Health, I believe, was present when this report was submitted to the Ministers of the various Departments, and I find, on page 3 of the report, that in the mining industry in South Wales to-day the average railway rate for inland coal has increased by 1s.6½d.per ton. The average railway rate for shipment of coal has increased by 9d., for tipping and weighing, 5d., and for wharfage 1¼d. That gives you an increase above the 1913 rate of 2s. 9¾d. per ton. On page 7, they give you the burden of the local rates. They say that the local rates have increased from 1.7d. per ton to 1.1d. per ton more in some districts than in others, but there is an average of 4d. per ton on each ton of coal produced. On page 9 they deal with royalties, pointing out 890 that these amount to something like 9d. per ton on each ton of coal produced. Taking these three figures, there is an increase, compared with the 1913 figures, of 3s. 10¾d. on every ton of coal produced in South Wales.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Commodore King)
Does the hon. Member suggest that royalties have been increased in that period?
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I am not suggesting anything. I am going to show the effect of these increases on the steel, the tinplate and other industries. It is not only the mining industry which is suffering; the policy of the Government is crippling other industries in South Wales. I will quote a few instances of the increase of rates in some of these districts. In Abersychan, in my own constituency, the rates were 7s. 4d. in the pound in 1913, and in 1927 they were 17s. 2d., an increase of 134 per cent. In Merthyr, the rates were 10s. in 1913 and 30s. in 1927, an increase of 195 per cent. In Neath, my own home, the rates were 8s. in 1913 and 24s. in 1927, an increase of 200 per cent. In Brynmawr, the constituency next to my own, the rates were 7s. 6d. in 1913 and 30s. in 1927, an increase of 300 per cent. In the Caerphilly and the Rhondda districts the rates were 8s. and 7s. 9d. respectively in 1913, and are now 28s. and 30s., increases of 250 per cent. and 287 per cent.
In the steel trade unemployment in the Blaenavon district, in the Cwmbrion district, in the Cardiff-Dowlais district, the Port Talbot district, and the Briton Ferry district is quite as rampant as in the mining areas, and I want to show the effect of the increase per ton of coal to which I have referred on the steel trade and the tin-plate trade. In round figures, there has been an increase of 4s. on the ton of coal, and that increase is transferred to the steel industry, because coal is a raw material in the production of steel. On the average, four tons of coal are used in the production of a ton of steel, and therefore there is an increase, as compared with 1913, of 16s. on every ton of steel produced. Steel bars, in their turn, are the raw material for the manufacture of tin-plate and galvanised sheets, and this extra 16s. a ton on the cost of steel is transferred to those two industries. The particular point here is that the galvanised sheet industry 891 and the tin-plate industry are exporting industries. We do not compete with anybody in this country, our competition is with the foreigner in the neutral markets, and this additional burden makes it impossible for us to compete with America and with Germany. In 1913, for six months the world export of tin-plates amounted to 7,000,000 boxes, and 6,000,000 of these 7,000,000 boxes which went into the neutral markets of the world came from South Wales. Last year, the export of tin-plates to meet the world's requirements reached the figure of 13,000,000 boxes in six months. What was the position in South Wales as compared with America and Germany? We exported fewer boxes to the neutral markets to the extent of 5,000 tons per week, as compared with 1913, but the Americans and the Germans increased their exports to the neutral markets by over 4,000,000 boxes.
In the development which I have traced, I have shown that coal is the raw material of steel and that steel is the raw material for tin plates. If we are beaten in the neutral markets of the world in regard to tin plates, the steel works are bound to close down and the mines are bound to close down, because, so far as steel and tin plates are concerned, we are the biggest consumers of coal in the whole country. I do not criticise the Government, I am simply reasoning with them. I hope they will not turn a deaf ear to the appeals which have been made from this side of the House. Private charity is not going to settle the difficulty, nor is the transference scheme. Those simply touch the fringe of it, and the Government must come forward with some financial proposal with which to assist these distressed districts. I have three suggestions to offer to the Government for their consideration. The first is that they should accept the recommendation of the local authorities of the country and make unemployment a national charge. The second proposal is that the Government should adopt the recommendation of the Sankey and the Samuel Commissions and nationalise the mining royalties of the country.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I was simply making the suggestion. My third suggestion is—well, I cannot make the third, because you would call me to order again. I do not think the first suggestion would require legislation. If unemployment were made a national charge it would considerably relieve the rates in these districts. If the Minister of Health were present, I should like to tell him plainly and frankly that to throw sops and suggest that private charity can settle this question is of no avail. He ought to come down to South Wales, where I was during the week-end. You walk the streets and you see little children with starvation depicted in their faces. Men are despondent, degraded and demoralised, and the hearts of the women are broken, and unless the Government come to the aid of these people, I am afraid that something serious is going to happen. Some change must be made, and unless the Government are going to undertake it they ought to clear out in order to give some other Government a chance of dealing with the great problem of distress and destitution in South Wales to-day.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
We listened a few minutes ago to a critical and interesting speech from the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), to which I hope to make some reference before I sit down. He reminded us that most of the speeches to-day had been repetitions. When he has been in this House a little longer, he will probably find that it is essential to repeat and repeat again before you are able to get the Government to move at all. The Labour party sent down to the South Wales area in order to ascertain the exact facts, and a copy of their report is in the possession of the Minister of Health, but all that the Government can suggest is a policy of transferring men and training youths and relying upon charitable organisations. We all agree about the training of youths. It is essential, and particularly in these times, when industries such as the mining industry are in such a perilous condition, that there should be more concentration on the training of youths. Much more can be done for the unemployed miners. There are certain kinds of occupations in this country in which unemployed miners could commence work to-morrow without any training at all. Miners are 893 used to hard work. Many of them can use a spade or a shovel, and they could do work connected with drainage or roads without any special training. While it may be essential to have training for particular trades, it is not so essential so far as unemployed miners are concerned.
The Minister of Health does not fully realise the difficulties of local authorities. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech very carefully, and he emphasised the fact that many districts are redeeming themselves by a process of economy and thus making their income greater than their expenditure. That is all very well, but that can be done by only two processes. In the first place, it can be done by an increase in the rates which the people living in those areas cannot bear; or, secondly, by a reduction in the scale of relief which means that the people in receipt of that relief cannot possibly secure the needs of life. That, in itself, is bound to lead the Minister of Health to realise that if the people are forced by circumstances to depend upon out-door relief, and it is cut down—if the necessities of life are reduced—then their physique is bound to deteriorate, and when work is available those people will not be able to accept it because of their deteriorated physical condition.
In the North, the situation is very similar to that which has been described as existing in South Wales. Take four places in the North, Newcastle, Gateshead, South Shields, and Tynemouth. In Newcastle, in 1914, the expenditure out of the rate for Poor Law purposes was 6s. 3d., and to-day it is 35s. 7d.; in Gateshead, in 1914, it was 5s. 1d., and now it is 11s. 5d.; in South Shields, in 1914, the rate was 5s. 3d., and now it is 23s. 5d.; and in Tynemouth, in 1914, it was 3s. 10d., and now it is 10s. 8d. Taking actual percentages Gateshead is the lowest increase as compared with the position in 1914, in the four districts I have mentioned. Of course, it is very difficult to make a comparison between Newcastle and Gateshead, because the assessable value of Newcastle is £2,273,000 as compared with £827,000 in the case of Gateshead, which means that Newcastle will always have more money for the purpose than Gateshead. From the point of view of the North, the situation is extraordinarily difficult. The 894 other day, while passing through the Whickham district, I found that half the houses erected under the Housing Scheme by the Whickham Urban District Council were empty, and the whole place was desolate. The Minister of Health has been asked by the Whickham Urban District Council whether it would not be wise for him to reduce the rent under the Byermoor housing scheme, because the rents and the rates are so heavy that the tenants are leaving, and practically the whole of the houses under that scheme will be empty and will deteriorate. The local council think it would be better if the Minister of Health could reduce the rent with a view to keeping the houses occupied, and thus preventing the deterioration of the property that is going on at the present time.
I have been accused of making a statement that the workers in this country today have a lower standard of life than they have ever had before. I have also been reminded that 25, 50 or 100 years ago the mining industry had not such good conditions as it has to-day. I want to repeat my statement that the workers of this country to-day have a much lower standard of life generally than they have ever had before in the history of this country. I am not prepared to make comparisons with 25, 50 or 100 years ago, because, under present conditions, the workers are entitled to have a much higher standard of living. Consider for a moment the cost of living and the needs of life during recent years. Nobody who looks at the situation as it existed 50 or 100 years ago can support the statement that the present condition of the working classes is better than it was a hundred years ago. I want to draw the attention of the Minister of Labour to a situation of which I do not think he is aware. The right hon. Gentleman has recently made a statement to the effect that a certain number of miners in the County of Durham are unemployed. According to the figures issued by chartered accountants in 1924 and in 1927, after going through the colliery accounts, it has been found that in May, 1924, there were 172,024 people employed in Durham whereas in December, 1927, there were 120,794 people employed or a difference of 51,229. Since December, 1927, a number of other collieries have closed down, so that the difference will be greater now than it was at that time. As there is a difference of 15,000 between these figures 895 and those given a few days ago by the right hon. Gentleman, I think he ought to make a very careful inquiry into this matter, and let us have the correct number of miners unemployed in Durham. It may be that this difference of 15,000 is accounted for by the fact that they have been struck off the unemployment register, which means that there is no record of them at the present time.
We have had some interesting suggestions made to us with regard to the mining industry. Of course, whenever we raise the question of nationalisation of the mines that is always looked upon as a subject which ought not to be talked about in this House. I am not going to talk about nationalisation to-night. We have heard from the hon. Member for East Aberdeen that it is time that Members of this House got down to the actual trouble in the mining industry, and he said that the first thing you have to do is to secure a reorganisation of the mines. We have talked about that subject ever since I came into this House. The other day we heard a very interesting statement from the Secretary for Mines showing that the price of our export coal was 2s. 8d. per ton below that of foreign coal. We have raised this matter on many occasions for the purpose of trying to secure that there shall be some control by the Government in regard to export prices with a view to getting more revenue for the coal industry, in order that the men may receive higher wages and thereby become possessed of greater purchasing power. These things would tend to relieve much of the distress in those particular areas. Some time ago the Secretary for Mines said the Government were making careful inquiry into the export trade. I do not know whether the Secretary for Mines will be able to tell us anything about that question, but I think the time has come when something ought to be done with regard to the export coal trade.
There is another question which I hope the Secretary for Mines will take into consideration, and it is the question of transfer coal, about which I have put down a question for to-morrow. When a mine has not paid a dividend for a number of years, it frequently happens that the coal produced at that mine is transferred, and valuable by-products are produced. The colliery 896 companies in this way are producing good dividends by means of the by-products, and consequently there is no need for the owners to trouble whether the mine is paying or not so long as they secure a good return from their other activities. We have often tried to find out whether the price contained in the ascertainment takes into account the transfer of coal, but we have no information up to the present time. I think that is a departmental matter upon which the Secretary for Mines will see that the miners are entitled to have justice done, and we should be told whether the transfer coal is taken into account in the ascertainment.
I agree with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen that an international arrangement is absolutely essential for the export of coal. I have mentioned that matter before, and I am convinced in my own mind, as a result of my last year's experience, that there is a desire on the part of the coal producing countries on the Continent to meet the British people in order to have some kind of international arrangement for definite minimum prices for export coal, after proper grading, in order that better returns might come into the industry from time to time. I was surprised that the Member for East Aberdeen referred to the article written by a Scottish coalowner, in which he said that the foreigner was controlling the price. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen said that as a result of his experience in Germany he found that the British people were controlling the export prices and not the foreigners, and he made the very definite statement that the British coalowners were bribing foreign firms to break their contracts in order to allow them to get in a lower price. I could not understand the hon. Member referring to that particular article which was condemning foreigners for controlling the price of export coal.
There is another thing to which I want to refer. In the King's Speech, reference was made to the incidence of rating. The incidence of rating is a very important matter, and that reference was particularly with regard to rating as it affected industry. I presume that the Government are considering that matter from the point of view of giving relief to industry, in order to enable it to get on to a more secure economic basis as early as possible. If the Secretary for Mines 897 will look at the ascertainment, he will find that the payments made for royalties in the Durham district come to just a little more than we are paying in rates, and, if he were to set on foot a scheme for the elimination of the royalties, such as has been recommended from time to time, that would be a tremendous help to the mining industry. It could be done fairly rapidly, because, so far as this side of the House is concerned, we are all agreed, and I was under the impression that the Government themselves were agreed, in regard to the State taking over the royalties on coal in this country.
§ Commodore KING
Does the hon. Member suggest that the Government should buy the royalties, and then remit them and cancel them altogether?
§ Mr. WHITELEY
What I would suggest, if the Government have any intention of tackling that problem, is that they should see what these people have received in royalties over the whole period during which mining has been in operation in this country.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
I know it is not answering the hon. and gallant Gentleman's question. As a matter of fact, I am not prepared here and now to say that you should buy royalties out at the price which these people are securing for them—at their existing value, or the value at which they appear in the ascertainments from time to time. There is much to be done before you get to that stage.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
I was answering the question of the Secretary for Mines. I was referring to that matter from the point of view that the two items are practically identical in our ascertainments, and that is one of the things by which relief could be secured. Again, the hon. Member for East Aberdeen dealt with the question of giving some pension to people over the age of 60. He was rather inclined to the idea that that pension would come directly from the Government. Our suggestion was not that; our suggestion was that the industry should be responsible for providing a pension of that kind out of the 898 money secured from the tonnage raised, as now provided in the Welfare Scheme. That was our original idea with regard to the men over 60, and with regard to the young people under 16, because we are certain that dealing with the problem at these two ends—not allowing anyone in under the age of 16, and providing for those over 60—would, in a very short time, relieve in a large measure the difficult situation through which the mining industry is passing to-day. The last point made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen was that none of these things was of any use unless we were prepared to have co-operation in industry. With that I agree absolutely. He said that the only successes that had been attained had been where co-operation had been brought about. I say to the Secretary for Mines that, when he is able to get the coalowners of this country to co-operate, we may get on a little faster than we are doing to-day. In the county of Durham there is victimisation of a most extreme kind, which is creating bitterness and animosity. Some of the best type of men are feeling very bitter to-day because of the victimisation through which they are passing, and, unless the owners eliminate that spirit from themselves and their association, there is not much hope of real co-operation in the mining industry in the North of England. I am certain that, as a result of this Debate, the various Departments of the Government, if they have the will and the desire, can secure sufficient matter to enable them to bring about a co-operation between the Departments that will help in finding some solution which will be of immediate benefit to the people in these distressed areas, and, ultimately, will put these industries on a better basis.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), in his interesting speech, in which he advocated what has come to be known as rationalisation of the coal industry, rather twitted us that, whenever such proposals were put forward by responsible people, we immediately asked what was to happen to the men who were to be displaced; and he seemed to urge that that was something which was to be considered rather reprehensible on our part—that that was our first consideration, rather than the selling of coal or arrangements 899 for the rationalisation of the coal industry. He finished his speech by appealing to the Government to place unemployed miners in a sort of special category, and to deal with them as a special class, as being persons who were, or had been, subject to the operation of various economic laws which were not operating in the case of the great mass of other people. I am sure that, if the Government would accede to the request of the hon. Member, who is one of their own supporters, to deal generously with the displaced miners, that would overcome a good many of our objections to what is called rationalisation. Naturally, of course, we are disposed to consider what is going to happen to the men who are displaced. That is really the first consideration which persons in our position would be expected to have in mind. We have the condition of these men ever before our eyes, and it is on account of their condition that we are here this evening putting forward the case as best we can for recognition by the Government.
I have not very much hope that the Government are going to do anything to deal in any adequate manner with the problem of the distressed areas, particularly in the coalfields. Whatever hopes one may have had were dashed completely by the speech of the Minister of Health. As usual, he gave a résumé of the conditions. He told the Leader of the Opposition that he had certainly not overstated his case, and one thought at one time that he was tending towards some sympathetic attitude on the whole question; but when he came to suggest sending round the hat first in South Wales, and setting a good example to the rest of the country, and suggesting that we might expect that private charity would come to the aid of these people who are suffering in these distressed areas, hope vanished so far as he was concerned, because I am quite convinced that there is not much to be sought for in that direction.
Time and again we have put the case for Government aid for these distressed areas. We have illustrated it with every illustration that could possibly be used or imagined. This afternoon, all kinds of figures have been given. Percentages have been offered to the Government which they know are accurate, and which they know represent the precise state of affairs. My hon. Friend the Member 900 for Pontypool (Mr. Griffiths) gave some figures with regard to rates, taken from a report of the South Wales coalowners themselves, of which they were kind enough to send me a copy. The reason for the high rates was given in an answer to a question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) this afternoon, in which it was stated that in my own constituency of Merthyr Tydfil the number of persons in receipt of Poor Law relief on a day in March, 1920, was 4,598, while in 1927 the number was 18,345; and in Pontypridd, on a day in March, 1920, there were 10,470, and, in 1927, 18,793. In practically the whole of the cases referred to in this answer the increase in the number of persons receiving Poor Law relief is 300 per cent., and that is the explanation for the high rates that are having to be paid in these various areas.
The Minister of Health told us of the Transference Board, and of the various centres that are being set up for training. I asked a question about that the other day. An hon. Member below the Gangway stated that there were 46,000 miners in South Wales, and I asked how many miners from South Wales had come under the operation of the various training centres set up by the Government for dealing with this problem. The answer given to me was that the total was about 177 out of 46,000. If that is to be considered as illustrative of the method which the Government are adopting for dealing with this question, God help us! so far as an ultimate solution is concerned, for there is none. The reason why I suggest that the Government should accept the responsibility, and take the unemployed out of the purview of the Poor Law and off the rates of these distressed areas, is that Governmental policy has been responsible, in my view, for the conditions prevailing in this country. I am not going to say that it is wholly the policy of the present Government, but I am going to say that at any rate it is the national policy pursued by successive Governments since the end of the War in 1918.
I believe that the source of a great deal of our troubles in the coalfields can be traced to the terms of the Versailles Treaty. That was a national policy; it was done with national consent, and not to suit miners or by miners. That Treaty 901 took away from Germany a good many of her coal resources. It compelled her to deliver coal to people who at one time had been our customers; it compelled her to resort to parting with the whole of her best coal as reparations, and it has driven her down to brown coal and lignite, and compelled her to bring science to bear upon the treatment of a kind of coal that had hitherto been considered as useless and of no value at all. The operation of these conditions in her coalfields is to a large extent responsible for the condition in which we find ourselves. I believe it to be a fact that to-day, under the Dawes plan, France is receiving such large quantities of commodities, coal among them, from Germany, that she is being completely flooded out by them, and the French Government are issuing an edict to the various departments, municipalities and administrative bodies, begging them to use German commodities that are coming into France by way of reparations. To so large a degree is she being flooded out by these goods and commodities, including coal, that the goods are being sent back, because France cannot possibly consume them, try as she will. I believe to a large extent Italy is getting into the same position. We have not yet reached the maximum payments under the Dawes plan. I believe the maximum payments come into operation either next year or the year after, and if the condition obtaining in France is such as I have described, and as has been described in the Press, what is going to happen when Germany is compelled to meet the full maximum demands I cannot say. It is because of conditions of that kind, and because of this policy, that the Government should come to the rescue of our distressed areas by relieving them of the necessity of maintaining on poor relief workmen unemployed, not because of any iniquity in themselves, but because of a national policy pursued by various Governments since 1918.
There is another reason for the condition in which we find ourselves in the coal trade. I am not going to exonerate the owners entirely. The Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) compared the demand made for the treatment of the coal trade now with what occurred in the leadmining 902 industry in Derbyshire. There is no analogy whatever. We are operating now in an entirely different world. Things are completely changed. At the time of which he spoke our manufacturers were operating in a world in which there was constant expansion, in which British goods were demanded in all parts of the world, a world in which other nations were lagging decades behind us so far as mechanisation, science and knowledge were concerned. Our manufacturers and producers are operating now in a world in which the markets are constricted and not expanded, and it is no use considering you can deal with matters to-day as they could have been dealt with 50 years ago in tremendously different economic circumstances. How are the owners to blame here? What has happened? Where are all the exports of our coal to South America? Killed by the cupidity of the owners who, during the War, demanded prices that the people of those countries objected to paying. They saw it was extremely dangerous if they were to be left to the mercy of a coal-exporting country that bled them white on every possible occasion. That was true with regard to the Argentine and Chile and also with regard to Italy and practically the whole of the Mediterranean countries, and the result has been that they have been driven to discover methods of developing their own mechanical power without the use of our coal. I do not in any sense regard the coal trade as a non-paying industry. It may well be that the mere getting of coal may not be very profitable, but I refuse to regard the coal industry as merely getting coal. It must be taken as a whole, and I believe the coal industry is still a profitable industry, and I refuse to believe that the man who gets the raw material for half the prosperous industries of the country should be starved and sent down to penury and misery while the people who use the commodity he obtains can get large profits and become prosperous as the result of his labour.
I believe the Government have a responsibility from every point of view to the men who are thrown out of employment. I see there is a member of the Cabinet present. I cannot conceive for a moment that Ministers will read anything I say in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I suggest to the Noble Lord that he might 903 convey my suggestion to his colleagues. We have the King of Afghanistan visiting us. He has come for the purpose of seeing and studying our Western methods. Presumably he has come to see whether he can discover means whereby his half-barbaric country can be improved. He has seen the splendour, the might, the pomp and the pageantry of this country. He has seen all the splendour that our Royal House can afford. He has been received as hospitably as he possibly could be anywhere in the world, and nowhere can he have witnessed what he has witnessed in this country. He has received the lavish hospitality not only of the Royal House but of the City of London, and wherever he goes to the great cities he will be received in like manner. But the Government might show him something more of the country than he is presumably going to see now, and if they will only bring him down to South Wales I undertake to meet His Majesty at Merthyr Tydvil Station. We will put no banners up; we will hide nothing, but we will show him the other side of the country in all its hideous nakedness. I am sure if he will come and see what I could show him after what the Government have shown him, he will imagine either that he has been cheated or that he is in an entirely different world from that he entered when he first set foot on our shores. I am sure he would never understand that the splendour he has witnessed in London, with all its magnificence, all its glory, all its signs of magnificent and marvellous power could contain the beggary, poverty, misery and penury that I could show him in the Division I represent. The Government, for their own credit, for the credit of their own country, for the credit of their own name, ought to give this question serious consideration and do themselves the credit and the honour of doing something to remove from our escutcheon one of the blackest blots that rest upon it now, its evil treatment of these undeserving poor and the burdens of its undeserving Poor Law authorities.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
This is not the first time that we have talked about necessitous areas. I do not, however, propose to rehearse how many times we have called attention to them. I rather 904 want to chronicle a decided improvement in the situation, and, if the Minister of Health were here, I should congratulate him on his speech, because it showed an extraordinary improvement. It is the very first time that he has given us a general survey of the question and has shown that he considered it a serious one. I suppose hardly a month has passed in the last two years that he has not had one or other of his little Poor Law Bills in one or other stage before this long-suffering House. We have exhausted ourselves pointing out to him that he was tinkering with symptoms, and never once have we been able to extract from him any general policy. We have not had any general policy to-day, but we have had for the first time a serious speech on the subject. There are other signs in the same direction. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made two speeches on the subject of the relief of rates, and the Government have mentioned it in the King's Speech, and now we hear that a Commission is going to Wales. All these are an indication that our propaganda has had some effect and an admission that there is something to be done. I was particularly delighted with the Chancellor's speeches about the evil of excessive rates. I agreed with every word of them. It was a delightful intellectual pleasure to hear him saying the things I have been trying to say ever since 1921. The Government have arrived at the stage of diagnosis. It reminds me of a story I read in "Punch" of doctors who always make a point of confirming their diagnosis by the post mortem. We are getting very near the stage of a post mortem in these areas.
I have not got up to go over the old ground again, because it is not the diagnosis that interests us. We can all diagnose, and we have taught the Government to do it. What really interests us is the question of the rates. This is so enormous a subject that it is not possible to deal with it in a short speech. It is also a subject which is very strictly limited by the Rules of Order. The remedies divide themselves into three heads. There is the immediate relief of the suffering population, there is the question of the relief of industry, and there is the question which we sum up under the 905 word transference. I am going to deal, first of all, with the question of the immediate relief of the people who are suffering. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) gave us a peculiarly hard-headed and businesslike summary of the situation, with which I agree. He told us that there is a very large number of persons who will never again earn a living from the coal industry. That, of course, is the kernel of the situation, and it is our duty to see that these people are not made martyrs of a change of industry. Take the question on which the Leader of the Opposition spoke, the question of boots and shoes. That was in the area of Bedwellty, where the guardians have been living for many years on the loans given out by the Goschen Committee under the auspices of the Minister of Health. The elected guardians have been superseded, and one of the rules of the Commissioners is that they will not give relief in cash at all. In a few cases they pay the rent but all the rest of the relief is in food tickets. That is why the children have not got boots or clothes, because the Minister has said to the Commissioners, "Do not give them any money to buy them with." We had the Debate upon the Prayer the other day. We have gone forward a step since then. The Parliamentary Secretary, who was put up to answer, said that no money had been advanced to the district for some time. He said that out-relief for the half-year ending 30th September, 1925, was over £100,000, that it had risen to £300,000 for the half-year ended December, 1926, and that they had now brought it down to £38,000. He said that he had every reason to believe that it had been done without any hardship. Without any hardship! We beat him from that position when his chief says that we must have a great charitable fund in order to get boots and clothes for children of which they have been deprived.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Has the hon. Member any reason to believe that that board of guardians gave boots to children before?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Oh, yes, they did. Before the nominees of the Minister of Health came they were a very generous board of guardians. They were as 906 generous as Poplar. They gave very high relief indeed. They did not give boots and clothes.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
But they gave them money with which to buy them. I was not asking that guardians should dole out boots and clothes. I was pointing out that if you only gave out food tickets they had no money with which to buy boots and clothes. My point is that they were not getting boots and clothes because they had no cash given to them with which to buy them. The President of the Board of Education is mistaken if he thinks that Bedwellty was not one of those boards of guardians where the scales of relief were the highest in the Kingdom. It is perfectly true that that was so, and, when they were giving out relief in that little union at the rate of £100,000 for the half-year in September, 1925, and when they were giving out relief amounting to £300,000, as they were during the year of the strike, they were giving money sufficient to enable every child to be clothed and fed. I warn the President that, if he contends that Bedwellty was an economic union, he will have the Minister of Health against him, because every time the matter has come up he has almost exhausted himself in trying to show that too much money was given to Bedwellty. The Minister of Health is going to sign subscription lists, I suppose, in order to get boots and shoes, because the guardians who used to be financed by the Ministry are now replaced by his nominees, who are not going to give any money which will enable boots and shoes to be bought. These indebted areas have had to reduce their relief so as to be able to get further loans from the Minister. For instance, Newport gets a certain limited amount of money in order to buy boots and clothes. Why does it give so little? Why does it give only 9s. to a man? It does so because it is an indebted area; because it can only get a loan if it obeys the conditions of the Minister of Health. Why is it that in Wales generally we have this picture of thousands of children without clothes and going hungry? Because those districts are so poor that the Minister of Health can do what he likes with them. It is also the policy of the Minister of Health. It is his responsibility.
907 I say that we ought, at any rate, to secure these people who are suffering through no fault of their own against primary poverty, against hunger and cold. The Minister of Health, as an interim measure, should advance money sufficient to enable the guardians to give proper relief. As an interim measure, before legislation can be passed, he ought to give grants, as he can give them without legislation, in order to enable a minimum scale of relief to be paid to these people. He ought to remove from these districts the burden of repaying interest and instalments. He ought to do that in order to ensure their credit and to ensure their future. But one cannot get anything from him. The other day, on the Second Reading of the Local Authorities (Emergency Provisions) Bill, all he did was to explain his powers of giving a loan for five years. We could obtain no hint from him as to what he meant to do or what is his policy with regard to the necessitous areas. The first thing that the Minister ought to tell us to-day is what he means to do with regard to the areas which the country has grudgingly financed and which are administered under restrictions unknown to Parliament, laid down by the Minister in the privacy of his study.
It is no use talking about private charity. The noble lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) said that the difference between private and public charity was that public charity was taken from all and that private charity was taken only from the people who could afford it. That is not really true. The charity of the poor to the poor is very much greater than the charity of the rich to the poor. The widow and her mite is a figure which you can see in the starving districts anywhere. But there is another difference between public and private charity. It is that private charity is never sufficient for so great a need. You could not get the money from private charity, for those people who are charitable have not the resources to take upon their backs the whole of the dispossessed people of South Wales. However good and kind—and I do not turn with scorn upon the people who pour out their money to save their fellows—private 908 charity is not sufficient to bear the whole burden of the miners' families and the miners themselves, to feed them and to provide them with boots and clothes. That, I say, is an interim matter.
The central matter is this old problem of the necessitous areas. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. MacDonald) spoke of the great harm that was done by this millstone of the rates being placed round the neck of industry, and by the fact that a district, in proportion to its poverty and unemployment, had to be rated more and more. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Griffiths) pointed out that the steel trade and the tin-plate trade were hit by the rates. I do not want to add to what they said about the burden upon our struggling industries, about the unfair burden of the rates. The noble lord the Member for West Derbyshire spoke of not impeding the free flow of labour from industries that did not need it to industries that did. I would ask him, if he were here, what is the reason all the new industries—and there are new and flourishing industries—are going to the South of England? Why do they fly from the districts where they can get coal at pit-head prices and where the communication is better, than in any district in the country? Why are industries not springing up in the necessitous areas? The reason is perfectly plain. No man in his senses will put up a new factory in a district where the rates are 25s. in the pound! By this system of throwing the burden of the unemployed on to the localities we are erecting artificial barriers against the free flow of industry from district to district and we are putting a barrier against one of the healthful and growing forces in our industry, namely, the growth of new industries. We are complicating the transference from depressed industries to growing industries by a great transfer of population, thereby complicating the great question of housing.
We of the Labour party regard this question of unemployment from the point of view that two things need to be done. We must make the maintenance of the unemployed a national charge and we must provide work for the unemployed. We can do nothing unless we face the fact that the country needs an enormous transference of burden from 909 the shoulders of the ratepayers to the shoulders of the taxpayers. We must put on to the taxpayers the bulk of the £49,000,000 of Poor Law costs, and we must free the depressed districts from their £7,000,000 or £10,000,000 of indebtedness. We must make the rentier, the person who invests in foreign securities, the comfortable, well-to-do person, share the burden of our depressed industries, and we must do it by putting up the Income Tax and lowering the rates.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
It is not merely that. It is not so much taking from the capitalists whose money is used in this country in industry but, rather, putting the burden on to the capitalists who have their money invested in the debt of the country or in Chilean railways or American stock, and so on; not putting special financial burdens upon that part of the wealth of the country which is used in our industries. I am aware that we should have to have legislation for that, and I cannot elaborate the point.
What are we going to do with the people who are superfluous in industry? We hear a good deal of talk about the transference of miners. I would ask the Minister of Education, who seems amused, whether it is not a sin that every year in a trade which cannot maintain the men who are now qualified to work in it you take 21,000 boys—21,000 boys into the worst blind-alley occupation in the world. Would it not be better to give the industry time to turn round by keeping the boys at school and giving scholarships which would enable them to have their school fees paid? The President of the Board of Education has power to do many things without legislation. He can raise the school age—
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I challenge the right hon. Gentleman. Let him go down to these districts. Let him tell the local authorities to spend money in this direction and that he will give them 50 per cent. for every child they keep at school. Let him tell them that he will bear half the cost. Let him allow them, 910 as he can under the Goschen Committee, money to enable them to build whatever may be necessary in the way of extra accommodation. Let him ease the burden of the local authority. The right hon. Gentleman laughs. It is easy enough to laugh. It is easy enough to laugh at people who are struggling. The right hon. Gentleman knows that Mr. Speaker would not allow him to argue the question of the lowering of the school age. It is the duty of the Minister, pending legislation, to get as near as possible to the end desired by means of administration. It is easy to make cheap jokes and to make jokes at the expense of a back bencher, but if a Minister knows his duty and he does not do it, he will not be excused in the eyes of the country and of history.
Take the question of training. I understand that 170 men are in training and also a small number of boys. For what purpose? Whence are they to be transferred? What are the industries that are looking for them? What are the industries that could take 20,000 or 30,000 men or boys to-day? Everyone knows that the industries which are doing well are not doing very well. We find in some of them 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. of unemployment. We have not very many industries where there is a demand for additional labour. We need a large scheme of work for the unemployed, a scheme which will not conflict with existing industries. We want work which will be suitable for unemployed men to do. If we want to solve the problem, we need only go to the schemes which have been recommended to the Government. I will mention one scheme. The Royal Commission on Land Drainage have reported with regard to the drainage of this country. They have given the most magnificent scheme of work that any Government ever had the chance of putting into force; a scheme which would fulfil all the conditions of which I have spoken. It is a large scheme, it does not compete with any other industry, it would be suitable for a large number of men and it is work that would not be done without State help. I spoke on this subject on the Address. I regard it as one of the most important proposals that has ever come to any Government.
The Minister of Agriculture stated that at least 1,700,000 acres in this 911 country are in immediate need of drainage. The matter goes further than that. The experts of the Minister of Agriculture have surveyed every river basin in England and Wales and they report that there are 101 river basins in immediate need of drainage, and they cite 60 priority cases. Some of these rivers are as deep as the Thames and the Severn. In regard to one of them, the Great Ouse, much of the necessary preliminary work has been completed. The survey has been made, the estimate has been made, and the experts say that the district is in danger of reverting into the original state of swamp unless something is done to drain it. Here is a great piece of work; work commensurate with the need. The Royal Commission reported that there is at present no authority which can undertake the work, and they remark that:It may well be that extensive schemes of land improvement by drainage are impracticable so long as the present depression continues.The present depression is just the moment which a Government who wanted to do anything would seize.
We want a new scheme of unemployment, a new great national scheme, not a mere local scheme applied locally. We want the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour to act in conjunction and finance this scheme from State funds in order to transfer from the depressed trades and devastated areas as many men as are necessary for this great national scheme of land drainage. Can anybody say that this work is unsuitable for these men? Miners can dig trenches. The difficulty of housing is often raised, but when we asked miners to dig trenches in a hurry we did not insist upon houses. The people we want to provide for are the younger men in these depressed industries, and the only difficulty in the way is a question which must present itself to anyone who is interested in the subject; whether we are going to make a great gift to private landowners. We need not do that. We may take for the State the increased value of the land which would result from such a scheme of land drainage.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The scheme of unemployment would not need legislation, but I agree that in order to secure the increased value of the land to the State would require legislation. Still, it would not be beyond the power of a Chancellor of the Exchequer at an appropriate date to introduce legislation dealing with the matter. This is a suggestion which I think would be very useful. It is set forth in the Report of the Committee as being very useful to the State, but it cannot be done without State money. The Royal Commission is abundantly clear about that. After all, it costs money to keep men idle, unemployment benefit costs money, a good deal of money. The Poor Law relief, so grudgingly bestowed, also costs money. I think we ought to have some constructive scheme from the Government. It is idle to talk about transference unless the Government can tell us where these men are going and what they are going to do. Hon. Members with local knowledge have spoken of useful local unemployment schemes. Monmouthshire, I believe, has great schemes of road improvement, all at a standstill for want of funds.
We do not want to pass legislation in order to provide unemployment schemes. I should like to know where the transference is to take place: to what industries the men will be put; on what schemes they will be employed, and what is the policy of the Minister of Health with regard to the finances of the necessitous areas? Does he mean to continue his present plan to restrict relief? He outlined that in his speech and spoke with pride of the way in which expenditure had been curtailed. The only way by which expenditure can be brought down is at the cost of the boots and clothing and the food of the children, the men and women, and the old age pensioners of the district. I want to know whether he is prepared to finance these districts until legislation is passed: what he proposes to do in regard to the loans they have already raised, and what the Government proposes to do to give work for the unemployed before it is too late, and before the country at the next Election turns them out of office by a great majority.
Mr. C. P. WILLIAMS
My object in intervening in the Debate is really to ask the Secretary for Mines a few questions. 913 Unfortunately the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not in his place at the moment and I should be very glad if the President of the Board of Education will bring them to the notice of his colleague so that he can deal with them when he comes to reply. I have the privilege of representing a coal mining area in North Wales and, fortunately, the distress in that district is, I understand, less than in many less fortunate parts of the country. Still, in spite of that, we have a considerable number of unemployed. A question which has been agitating the Wrexham district for some time is the scientific utilisation of fuel, and it is on this point that I want to address a few questions to the Secretary for Mines. A few months ago an American ship called the "Mercer" travelled between New York and Antwerp on pulverised fuel. There were many reports in the newspapers as to the great advantages of this system of pulverised fuel and its importance to the coal mining districts of this country. The engineers in charge of the vessel thought it well to recommend that other boats of the same line should be adapted to this coal. I should like to ask if the Secretary for Mines has followed this experiment, and whether they have any data on the matter? I am of the opinion that if there is anything in these experiments there are many coal districts in which unemployment could be considerably decreased if this method became of greater application, thereby using our own coal where, at the present time, we are using imported oil.
There is another point; on the question of low temperature carbonisation of coal. It is some time since we had an official statement from the Department as to the position in this matter, and I should be glad if the hon. and gallant Member could inform the House whether any great advances have taken place, whether any firms, or corporations or gas companies, have adopted this process and with what results. In the gasification process the main object is to get the maximum amount of gas from the minimum amount of coal, but with the low temperature carbonisation process, where the gas is a by-product, the view is that you should use the maximum amount of coal for the minimum yield of gas. I should like to know whether the Secretary 914 for Mines has any additional data to give to the House beyond what he gave when he made his last statement, and, if so, can he hold out any hopes that these processes will become of general application? If he could encourage these processes we should find that in those districts where suitable coal is found unemployment would be very considerably reduced if we applied scientific methods to the coal industrial problem.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN BAKER
I have listened to addresses of a very interesting kind from the other side, and I would like to give the House the impression that those addresses have left on me. The Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Lord Hartington) said that we on this side of the House ought to get down to the facts and face them. He did not seem to think that the Government had any duty in the matter of facing facts or finding out the facts. He warned the Government that they had to be very careful what they did. I do not think it is necessary to warn this Government to exercise care in looking after the interests of the wealthy section of the community and neglecting the unemployed and the poorer members of society. They have exercised all the care in that direction that any Government could exercise. The Noble Lord seemed to treat this matter as though it were a very small affair, and as if "sending round the hat" would really meet the case. I never dreamed that I would live to hear either a responsible Minister or a Member of this House suggesting that the House should "send round the hat" in trying to relieve the masses of distress that evidently the hon. Member for West Derbyshire has not yet apprehended. He gave an illustration. He said that when lead mining was bad in North Derby, if some of the palliatives suggested had then been adopted, in all probability those industries would now be in a worse case than they were in being left alone.
There can be only one interpretation of that statement, and that interpretation is that it is no business of this House to look after the unemployed. It means, leave them to starve and they will get through somehow, and if they do not, what matters? I am one of those who have been advocating for 30 years and more "work or maintenance." I 915 put work first, but if this Parliament, this Government, and the capitalists of this country cannot provide work, they have failed; they ought to admit their failure and try some other system, and not admit that people should starve to death. I do not want their charity and never did. I want fair play for the workers of the country; I want justice for them. They have produced a jolly sight more wealth than they have consumed, and if they had had fair treatment, and if there had been wise distribution of the wealth, there would be no need for this Government to be suggesting "sending round the hat."
There is a tendency to discuss this matter as though it were one affecting miners only. It is not a disease mining; it is a disease of the whole of the industries of the country. You have the same state of affairs, but not so aggravated, in cotton and woollen textiles, in engineering, shipbuilding, and in iron and steel. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, who seem to think that they have no responsibility in this matter, charge us with making suggestions that are mere palliatives, and because they are palliatives they think that no one should take any further notice of them. If we suggest national ownership of these things, it is a palliative which they will not consider for a moment. What is the remedy that the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) gave us? He mentioned that several schemes have been propounded for the control of output and for the establishment of selling agencies, but the one he liked best was that propounded in Scotland. A few days ago I saw in a Midland newspaper a statement that the coalowners there had established a scheme and that the first thing they did was to restrict ouput by 20 per cent. That involved a dismissal of men and created unemployment.
That is the remedy of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen. He gave us the Scottish scheme. What is it? He seemed to think it was a good thing to charge protected industries an increased price. Under that scheme everyone has to pay increased prices; no one is going to escape. But the sheltered trades have to pay more. Why? The hon. Member did not tell us that. It is proposed that corporations buying Scottish coal shall pay 2s. 6d. a 916 ton more for it than they have done in the past, so that we can sell it in Germany at a lower rate than that at which we are selling it now—to put Germans out of work. If that is the extent of the wisdom of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, he ought to refrain from giving the House the advantage of it in future. That scheme, like the others, is a scheme for the mere restriction of output—not controlling output, but mere restriction in the interests of the owners. The workmen do not come into consideration at any point in that and similar schemes.
These schemes, if applied at once, could only have the first and immediate effect of throwing more men out of work. I have been in this House when quite other songs were sung. The workers of the country were then charged with not doing their bit. The first time I misbehaved myself in the House was in ignorance in talking out a Motion because I had been irritated by an hon. Gentleman opposite who abused bricklayers because they did not lay 3,000 or 6,000 bricks a day or something like that. In those days it was the worker who was not working hard enough. Now he has worked so hard that he has produced more wealth than he is permitted to consume. Until that wealth is consumed, some, if not all, of the wealth producers have to remain idle for a time, until the friends of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen and of the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire get it consumed and are able to demand some more. You cannot charge iron and steel workers with not having done their bit. The truth is that last year we had a record output for steel. We turned out more steel than we had produced in any year before 1918 or since that time. Twenty-five per cent. of the men who were engaged in the trade in 1920 were unemployed in 1927. We claim that we have increased the individual output by 36 per cent. since 1920.
Visualise the picture. Here are we creating wealth at a greater rate than ever we did before. We are not out of work because there is no work to do; we are out of work because we have done too much. The same thing applies to all countries. To-day I was reading some statistics given in a lecture quite recently in this country by an American, who pointed out that men handling ore at blast furnaces in America to-day do eight 917 times as much work as they did in 1922. The world is flooded with all the things that ought to make life possible and enjoyable, but because we are so stupid we have not found a reasonable method of distributing that wealth. Whilst iron and steel workers have been increasing output we have millions of pounds of capital lying idle in the country. That is not good for the capitalists. In regard to workmen, I find from the figures for February that in the blast furnace trade there were 14.3 per cent. idle; in the heavy steel trade 18.3 per cent. idle, and in the tin-plate trade 38 per cent. idle.
My colleague the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Griffiths) has been telling the House this evening that in some of the tin-plate areas, the poverty, distress, hardship and unemployment are as great as in some of the mining areas. I do not wish it to be inferred that it does not matter about the miners; but I draw attention to that in order to show that this is not a mining question only, but is an industrial question. If the miners, by some magic, were able to double their output it would mean that next week half of them would be thrown out of work. The coal would be piled up, the wealth would be there, but the men would be out of work. Far from absolving this Government from responsibility in the matter, I think the present trade depression or slump is largely a consequence of the Government's actions. I do not know that I would be in order in discussing that phase of the subject, and I have no desire to get into conflict with the Chair; but we have been told that nothing can be done without legislation. I do not wish to be rude to hon. Members opposite but they seemed rather glad when hon. Members on this side were ruled out of order for making suggestions which would require legislation. May I suggest that they are taking a wrong view if they say that legislation is necessary to deal with this matter? It is their duty and not ours. Why should they want to put their duty on to us? It is not our responsibility to make suggestions. They are the Government and it is their duty and, until that duty has been performed, it is their neglect.
This Government gave the Minister of Labour power to stop unemployment pay under certain conditions. It was not the Members on this side of the House who did so. It is because the Minister has 918 exercised that power that we have had the burden of unemployment thrown on to the local rates, with the result described by the hon. Member for Pontypool. It is not the ordinary district rate which has increased. It is the poor rate and it has increased because the districts have had to bear the burden of unemployment which should have been dealt with nationally, through the unemployment scheme. It is because this Parliament got rid of some of the national responsibility by giving the Minister of Labour the power to throw men off the unemployment fund—allowing them to go anywhere they liked, since they were no longer his concern—that much of this trouble has arisen. But to-morrow, and I hope it will be an early to-morrow, there will be a different tale to tell. The employers will want workmen. Now they act as though they have the right to a surplus supply of labour which will maintain itself and will be ready at the beck and call of employers to produce wealth for them. Then once the wealth is produced the employers are to have no further responsibility in the matter. I cannot accept that view. The Government also altered the basis of the payment of grants through the Unemployment Grants Committee. All over the country there have been local improvement schemes which would have been of value to the nation and which might have been carried out had it not been for the tightening up of the administration of the Unemployment Grants Committee. This has been done in such a way that it is difficult for the local authority to get any advantage from it.
In my own constituency, the Sedgley Urban District Council believed that it had an agreement with the Unemployment Grants Committee to carry out a sewerage scheme. That scheme was divided into four parts, three of which were carried out. Now the council want to carry out the fourth part of the scheme, but the basis on which grants are made has been altered, and they find they cannot get the grant, with the result that the scheme cannot be completed. That has had other effects. For instance, people who might otherwise have built houses there are not prepared to do so because of the absence of a sewerage scheme. I would say to hon. Gentlemen opposite who think that we must have legislation to do anything 919 in these matters, that here is an opportunity which would not require legislation and which would secure a measure of work for some people. All over the country, I am sure, there are cases of that description and little schemes of that kind here and there, if carried out, might bring joy to a considerable number of the population. But that is not what the Government want to do. I do not wish to describe them as callous or brutal, but that is the impression which is left on my mind by their treatment of this subject. We have over 1,000,000 unemployed. If it were case only of a few miners, I do not think even the miners' representatives here would view the matter seriously, but there is a tendency in this country to accept the present condition as normal. Only the other day the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade told us that we had a bigger working population in this country than ever before, and that the standard of living was higher than ever before. The same story has been told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister and other Members of the party opposite. "I am all right, it does not matter about anybody else"—that is the sum and substance of their argument, but, as I say, we have over 1,000,000 unemployed; we have 1,400,000 paupers; we have over 1,000,000 people living on inadequate pensions and we have 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 people and their dependants living on inadequate wages. Those are not conditions which I can accept with complacency, and I hope the Government will realise their responsibility in the matter.
§ Mr. BATEY
On Saturday morning, when I picked up one of the London papers, these words caught my eye: "Why are the miners on the rocks." It would have been interesting had we been able this evening to chase that "why" and discuss the question, but I understand it would be out of order. Consequently, for the most part, we have been discussing to-day the question of how to feed the miners when they are on the rocks, though I would prefer to discuss the question of how to get them off the rocks. I listened very carefully to the speech of the Minister of Health and I do not know that I wholly agree with the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss Lawrence) when she said that it 920 showed an improvement. The right hon. Gentleman started well, but he ended badly, and when he was sympathising with the miners, he reminded me of the old adage:Sympathy without relief is like mustard without beef.The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have three hopes. One was private relief, another was the Industrial Transference Board, and the third was training centres. He rather suggested that, if they could not find relief work, they might have a national relief fund for the miners in South Wales. I wondered whether he was thinking about a national poppy day, in order to sell poppies to relieve the miners, or whether he meant that the Prime Minister would be prepared to start a national relief fund for the miners. The latter course seemed to be so contrary to the way in which the Prime Minister acted when the miners were fighting in 1926 and he wrote to America not to give any relief to the miners then. I wish the Minister of Health would remember that we do not want charity. We do not want relief. What we want for our people is work. We believe that the duty of the Government is to provide work for these men, and what we say to the Government is: "Please do not put a stigma on our people by starting a national fund to relieve them, but rather turn your minds towards finding them employment in order that they may work for wages to maintain themselves, their wives, and their families."
The Minister of Health seemed to lay some stress on training centres. I have no sympathy with training centres, and, in my opinion, the money that is spent on them could be far better spent in relieving unemployed men than by taking it out of the Unemployment Fund for these centres, because there is not a trade in the country for which you can train young lads that has not abundance of labour already. As to training girls for domestic service, I think the best place in which to train a girl for domestic service is in her own home, by her own mother. The Minister said that in a very short time the whole country would be covered with training centres, but when the Government do that, they are simply playing with the question of unemployment and misleading the people who are unemployed.
921 I was more interested when the right hon. Gentleman said he had a lot of faith in the Industrial Transference Board, because I have been trying in the last few weeks to get the Minister of Labour to tell us just what this Board has done and for how many miners it has found jobs. The Minister of Labour has tried this week to put a different construction upon the work of this Transference Board from that which was put upon it by the President of the Board of Trade on the 7th December last. We were then having a mining Debate, and the Government said they were prepared to set up an Industrial Transference Board, whose problem, the President of the Board of Trade said:is to see where they can find jobs for men who are out of work in distressed areas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1927; col. 1423. Vol. 211.]What we were led to believe was that that Board would try and find jobs for miners in distressed areas and transfer those miners from the distressed areas to wherever the jobs were. During the last, week or two, I have been anxious to know what that Board has done, but up to the present we cannot get to know that it has transferred even one man. The Minister of Labour says the duty of the Board is not so much to find jobs for men but rather to influence employers, and one was interested to read on Saturday that this Board went to South Wales, of all places in the world, to find work. The first thing they did in South Wales was to call upon the Lord Mayor and have a lunch with him in Cardiff. That was a good start for this Transference Board. That is where it starts and that is where it will end, by having lunches. They will not find jobs for miners at luncheons with Lord Mayors, but it seems that they had such a good time in South Wales that they made up their minds that this week they would go to Durham.
§ Mr. BATEY
I do not see anybody in Durham who can give them a lunch. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Bishop?"] No. The Bishop knows too much for that. I see they have gone to Newcastle, and they may be able to get a lunch there, but is it not fun to think that this was the Government's remedy for the mining industry in the discussion on the 7th December, and then to find that between then and now they have done nothing, but that they are going around the country where they know there is no work to be had to see if they can influence employers? I wonder what our people in Durham will think of this Transference Board. South Wales has been discussed very fully to-day, but with us in Durham the poverty and misery could not be worse.
I am glad to see that the Secretary for Mines has come back into the House, because one of the hon. Members below the Gangway wanted to put some questions to him a little while ago, but could not because the Minister was not present. I think the Prime Minister should be here also, and that he should have been here on Friday, too. We were told on Friday by the Whip, who met us when we came into the House, that we were not to complain that the Prime Minister was not here, as he was not well. Then one took up the evening papers and saw that he had been at the boat race practice, enjoying himself, while we were discussing the mining industry in this House. He would rather gallivant to the boat race and see the crews practice than come to the House of Commons and discuss this important question of the mining industry.
The position in Durham is getting worse, because we have had to submit to recent reductions, which have brought our people below even the starvation line. I read an article in a paper the other day in which it was stated that the wages in the Ruhr district of Germany for the same class of work as our people are doing was 7s. 9d. per day, as against. 6s. 6½d. in Durham. I wondered whether it was, after all, worth our winning the War. Some of our people have the impression that it would have been better if this country had lost the War, when they find that miners in Germany can get 1s. 2d. a day more for the same class of work that they are doing. Things are 923 getting worse in the North of England. I would not mind if there were any prospect of betterment, but I see no sign of it. There has been a great deal of trouble in Durham with the young men. The young men in our coalpits are never easy to handle. They have been causing trouble during the last few weeks because of low wages. They have said that they are not going to take work unless they can get a fairly decent wage. Owing to the recent reductions, they are not being paid a decent wage, and they are refusing to work. It is an epidemic that is spreading in Durham and Northumberland, and it is no use anybody setting it down to Communism. It is not; it is simply due to the fact that these young men are making up their minds that, if they have to work down the coalpits, they must be paid a decent wage. It is a strange thing that there is not a decent wage for the men who are doing the hard work in our coal mines. Anybody else who touches coal after it leaves the colliery can make a profit. Only the Government can come to the rescue, and see that these young men are properly paid.
I would like to mention the partial amalgamations which have taken place in the country. South Wales has amalgamated, but in Durham we are likely to be more affected by the five midland counties amalgamation. Only last week, when the Secretary for Mines was questioned on the matter, he said that he had no knowledge of the amalgamation in the five counties having been put into effect. A coalowner, speaking from one of the back benches on Friday, said that that scheme had been put into force this month. It is bound to affect Durham and Northumberland. They cannot live against the five counties if they organise a form of selling syndicate. What is the Minister going to do about it? Is he simply going to sit and take no notice, and let Durham and Northumberland be sunk by these five midland counties? Partial amalgamation will not settle the trouble in the coal mining industry. We believe that there is only one way of settling it, and that is complete unification. We naturally want nationalisation, but in the absence of that, I am in favour of the "Daily Express" scheme of complete 924 unification of all the coal mines in the country. I wish the Secretary for Mines would give this matter far more serious attention than he has. We shall be bound to press him after Easter on the matter, and we shall take some action to protect ourselves against this five-county scheme.
I want to say a word on the question of local rates. When the King's Speech was read. we believed that the Government were at last going to deal with the question. To-day I put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I got a brilliant answer that not a man under the sun could understand. I asked what progress was being made with this question, and the reply, read by the Financial Secretary, was:My right hon. Friend has very little doubt that some statement, either negative or positive, upon this subject will be elicited during the Debate on the Budget.Can anybody understand what that means? Where is the Government now on the question of local rates? I read the answer as meaning that we might as well abandon the idea of the Government doing anything. The Secretary for Mines cannot do better at the present time than give his whole attention to these depressed mining areas, because pits stop when there is no need for them to be stopped, and the Minister ought to hold an inquiry and take every step which he possibly can to prevent them being stopped. Whether he does that or not, the question of partial amalgamation ought to warrant the Minister being far more alive to the mining question than he is at the moment. He ought to have a thorough inquiry, so that we may know what is going to be the effect of these amalgamations.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
Although I generally take part in the discussions on industrial matters in this House, this is the first time I have attempted to speak upon the question of the coal industry. The Debates on coal have generally been conducted by men who are engaged in the industry both on the employers side and on the employés side, but the serious condition of the industry is such that every man who feels his responsibility in this House ought to express his opinion on it. During this Debate I have tried to visualise the industry and this is what I see. I see a large basic industry, the 925 most important of all industries in this and every other country, for there is no mineral more precious, more important or more necessary for the welfare of this country than coal itself. In this great basic industry we see men employed for wages that are a disgrace to civilisation, and men occupying a status almost the lowest in the land. I was talking this morning to a miner before I got on to the train to come to London. He was telling me that one of his colleagues in the colliery next to where I live and a few yards from my door, had received as his pay last Saturday for three full shifts—and those were the number of shifts, of course, that he could get in for the week—11s. 4d. gross and 8s. 9d. net.
The Secretary for Mines last week told us that we could not compete with Continental countries because there were miners in Silesia working for 3s. 6d. per day. I want to say to him here and now that we have not to go to Silesia or to any other Continental country to find miners working for less than 3s. 6d. per day. That man said to me, "It is high time we had a revolution in the country. We have tried constitutional means and they have failed." I gave that man an answer this morning, and I am going to give the House of Commons the same answer to-night. I said to him, "No, you have not tried constitutional methods. When you have tried and exhausted constitutional methods, and they have failed to raise your status in life, and you want leaders for a revolution, you will not have far to go to seek them. I am prepared to take my place with you and lead the miners in circumstances of that kind, not to the mines, but to the barricades."
I have tried to visualise the miners' situation during the term of office of the present Secretary for Mines. We have a Secretary for Mines—I speak as far as this side is concerned—in whom we have confidence. We believe he is a man of action. We believe he will do what he can and that his intentions are good. It comes to my mind that when he was in his last Department he did something for Newcastle which was reckoned to be impossible by the War Office. I will not tell the House what it was, but he will know to what I am referring. When I went to interview the Department it was looked upon as an impossible thing, but 926 he accomplished it. We believe here that he will do whatever is possible in his position as a Tory Minister—and we know he is limited to that extent—but that he will do something at least to relieve the position, even if he cannot drastically alter it. I will try to visualise his position, and it is our duty to advise him. What I am going to do to-night is to point out, perhaps in another way, what other speakers have pointed out regarding the relief that can be given by his Government to the coal industry and to other industries incidentally.
The incidence of rates has been spoken of in the House. Let me give one example to show how this is bearing harshly upon the coalfields in my own county area of Newcastle-on-Tyne. Take the figures that have been put in to the Ministry of Health by the deputation from the North East Coast, and this is only one example from the schedule which was handed in. In the two neighbouring boroughs of Middlesbrough and Scarborough for the four years 1923–4–5–6, if you take the assessable value for able-bodied relief, it shows that Middlesbrough has paid 4s. 6½d. in the £ for the four years and the neighbouring borough of Scarborough has paid 2¾d. for the same period. I think that ought to bring home to the Government what the heavy incidence of rate means to such districts as the North-East Coast, South Wales, and other industrial areas. I have pointed out again and again in this House what it means to us who are bearing the surplus population in the Newcastle area which was drafted in during the War. After the War they were not reabsorbed in their rural occupations, and we have had to keep them. Our rates to-day are up by 1s. 11d. in the £ extra for able-bodied labourers.
We are told that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to deal with this in the Finance Bill which implements the Budget and that the Government, after being told year by year what is required both for mining and other industries, have inquired into the matter, and we are promised something in the next Budget. I hope that the fertile mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will devise some means of relief for such places as Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Glasgow, Cardiff and other centres of industry from the 927 very heavy rating which is at present imposed on them. In the train to-day between Newcastle and Darlington a gentleman, an ex-lord mayor of our city; pointed to a small factory employing 300 hands and said, "That place is going to close down, and is going to Edinburgh. Three shillings in the £ extra is to be put on this district for Poor Rate. This place is going to close and 300 hands will be paid off, increasing the burden of rates in this district." That is an example of what is taking place in all the large industrial areas.
I heard the word "co-operation" mentioned in the first speeches this afternoon dealing with the mining industry. I want to point out what has happened from co-operation in a colliery in the district represented in this House by the last Member who spoke, the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey). I will deal with this individual case before dealing with the national aspect of what co-operation means. Here is a colliery where they were actually working 11 shifts in the fortnight, which is the maximum, and regularly for 15 months a large number of men have to go to the guardians week after week to get their earnings augmented in order to keep their wives and families—and that is after working the full 11 shifts per fortnight. Immediately after that state of things a co-operative scheme was drawn up in the colliery, certain promises were made to the employés and a certain increased output was obtained. Immediately that increased output had been reached, an attempt was made—and it was a successful attempt—to cut prices, and a dispute followed. The men were charged with restricting output by 1,000 tons a week. In coalmining, as in all industries where there is piecework, wherever there is an increase of output and greater efficiency, they come along with a cut in prices.
Now I will come to national co-operation. I was in the House when the Coal Mines Bill was passed two years ago or so. What are the results of that Bill? The co-operation which has followed that Bill has resulted in greater output, but that co-operation has only led to further competition. The price of British coal for export, taking all grades, has been reduced by 2s. 4d. per ton. We have increased exports from 40,250,000 tons 928 to 43,000,000 tons, an increase in the export trade of 2,750,000 tons, and for that increased tonnage we have received £800,000 less in money. If that is to be the result of co-operation, I am afraid there will not be very much more of it. Last Friday I heard the Secretary for Mines say, "Can you point to a single instance where the greater output of coal of this country and the reduction of price for export has had any effect upon the status of any miners on the Continent?" I think those were the words.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
The Minister agrees. Then I want to ask him if he will carry his mind back to the strike in the Ruhr at the back end of last year, and what took place when the Ruhr miners asked for an advance of wages. They were told, "The German National Council rules all prices in Germany, and we cannot give you an increase of wages in face of the competition of British coal of all grades, which is cutting us out of our markets."
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I am speaking upon a point made by the Minister last Friday. He asked hon. Members on this side of the House to show where any cheapening of coal in this country had adversely affected the status of Continental miners. That is correct?
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
The Minister says that those were his words. I am not one of the best in the world at hearing, but I can hear him from this distance, and he challenged us to show where the status of Continental miners had been affected. I now point out that the German National Council stated that there could be no advance of coal prices in the Ruhr and that wages could not be raised because of British competition cutting them out of the market.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I say that the effect of the Eight Hours Bill has been as I have stated. We have increased output, we have reduced the cost of production, 929 we have increased exports, and we have received less money for the coal, and the miners' status has sunk lower and lower. That is the net result, as far as I can see. I wish to say to the Secretary for Mines and to the Government what has been said by supporters from their own Back Benches, including a very influential supporter, the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond). He has told the Government at least four times in my hearing that the coal question is not a British question at all, that it is a European question, at least, that it is an international question. What has been the effect of this cheapening of coal? It is no new thing. It is not a post-war proceeding, it was done pre-war. It means that we are producing coal—this country, which produces coal, and Germany, Belgium, France, and any other country which produces coal are producing coal cheaper for those to whom we sell than to the home consumer and home manufacturer. As far back as 1912 you could get Tyne coal, the product of Northumberland and Durham, from 3s. to 6s. a ton cheaper in Constantinople than you could get it at Dunston Wharf on the Tyne. The same thing obtains to-day. The outcome of the cut-throat competition between Silesia, Germany, Belgium, France and ourselves is that we are producing coal cheaper for those countries which produce no coal at all than for our own people. In Yorkshire and Scotland we have a scheme to subsidise the export trade in coal by putting 2s. to 2s. 6d. a ton on home coal. That is acknowledged. That is the scheme. It is a raising of prices to the home manufacturer and the householder at home, and giving cheap coal to the foreign consumer, both for his factories and for his houses. The more you cut wages and lengthen hours, the more you increase competition.
My time is up, but before I sit down I want to put a point to the Minister for Mines to which I would ask him to devote himself as a Tory Minister—and he is as decent a man as he can be, having regard to the fact that he is a Tory. I say that he ought to demand from the Chancellor, as representing the mines of this country, fair play for those areas which for six years now have been bearing an undue share of the aftereffects of the war. He has a right to 930 stand up on his hind legs and demand from the Chancellor some consideration for the heavy incidence of rates. I had intended to say a few words about the Transference Board, but that has been dealt with by the hon. Member for Spennymoor, and I will leave it at that. The Government need to recognise what they have been told time and again by their influential supporters and by great manufacturers in this country, that this is not a British question, but an international question, and that there ought to be stabilisation in order to give a decent status of life not only to the British miner but to the Continental miner. It would be out of order to suggest what we ought to do in the matter of royalties, but the Minister himself asked a question from a Member on the Opposition Front Bench as to what his idea was about taking over royalties. All I want to say is that if the Minister has that in his mind, let him examine what was done in Germany in regard to purchasing the royalties not for coal only but for all other minerals.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. May I ask if there is any reason why nobody representing Scotland has an opportunity to speak on this question?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
There is no reason that I am aware of, except that Members for Scotland do not happen on this occasion to have caught the Speaker's eye.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
In view of the fact that there is as much distress in Scotland as in other districts, is it not surprising that the Speaker should not have seen some of the Scottish Members?
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I have listened to most of the Debate which has taken place on this subject, and I must say that I have been keenly disappointed with the speech made by the Minister of Health. If I might make a Biblical reference I would say,We asked for bread and he gave us a stone.Several districts have been mentioned as suffering from distress in the coalfields of this country. I know a little of the 931 position in the Lancashire coalfield; but I do not propose to dwell upon that area except to say that the Government are not taking due notice of what is happening in some of the other coalfields of this land. The discussion to-day has turned more or less upon South Wales. It must be admitted that the case of South Wales is probably the worst in the country, as I shall endeavour to show. Even in my own Parliamentary Division, which is predominantly a mining constituency, there is one urban district containing about 6,000 inhabitants, known as Aspull, which I am afraid may develop into almost as bad a state as some of the districts in South Wales if some steps are not taken to deal with the situation in general. In that district the payments made in relief by the guardians have gone up to an enormous extent; and the income from the penny rate has dwindled proportionately. Coal mines have already been dismantled in Aspull; and during the last two years 11 collieries have closed down in the Westhoughton Division, throwing out of employment some 2,000 men, women, and boys. I mention women because they are still employed about the coal mines in Lancashire.
I do not propose to dwell upon the causes of all this distress, and I do not intend to deal with the question as to whether the seven or eight hours day is responsible for the present state of things. It has been said that the payment of royalties and wayleaves, the provisions of the Versailles Treaty, international competition, high railway rates, disputes between employers and employed, and the gradual increase in the consumption of oil displacing coal on big liners, are among the causes of distress. We have been told, too, that the remedies for dealing with it are the raising of the school age, pensions for old miners, increasing the number of training centres, emigration, the transfer of miners from one district to another and the carrying out of drainage schemes, etc., While I agree with practically every one of the causes of the distress and the proposals for remedying that distress, I do want the Minister of Health to adopt one certain very definite course, even if he forgets everything else. These people we have seen in South Wales cannot wait for any of these suggested 932 remedies. They cannot even wait for a single day in some cases. I can assure the House that they are not willing to listen to very much theory; they have got far beyond the stage of academic discussion. What they want is food and some clothing; and that is the appeal I am making to the Minister now. We were asked to go down to South Wales, not to deal with the economics of the coal industry or to consider the effects of the Versailles Treaty. We were simply asked to report upon distress in the coalfields. I am positive that if we could bring here some of the children from the village school of Abergwynfi, and if hon. Members could see the state of the clothing of those children, they would at once be ready to break every administrative precedent, in order to feed and clothe them properly.
I am sure some hon. Members opposite are not conversant with the real situation. The right hon. Gentleman says he has been down there and has seen the state of things in some of these mining villages. It is very much easier to speak on this subject when you have not seen the actual state of affairs. Some hon. Members opposite have been arguing that other districts in the country are in quite as bad a position as South Wales. I have tried to make myself familiar with the coal industry of this country. I have been a coal miner myself, and I have an idea what is happening now in most mining villages. I could never have conceived 25 years ago that the conditions which prevail in South Wales at this moment could possibly exist at any time; it is a terrible situation indeed. The Minister of Health spoke of charity. If these people had suffered from an explosion in a mine then the whole population of this land would have been ready to come to their aid. But what is happening now in fact is that they are starving gradually, and nobody takes much notice. The Minister of Health says that our report indicates that there is not in fact a great deal of infantile mortality, malnutrition and under-feeding. What we say is that the effect of the distress now existing in South Wales may not be felt this year or next, but that it will make a permanent mark upon the physique of the people in that district ultimately. That is the point I want to make in connection with under-feeding.
933 I want the Minister of Health to remember that those mining valleys stand on their own. The old miners are fixed to those villages. They cannot move easily from one point to another. You cannot get a yard of land on which to grow vegetables in some of the mining villages in the valleys of Glamorganshire. There is not a yard of cultivable land upon which to grow anything. That is the condition of things in some mining areas. In the cotton and textile industries, when a man has made his fortune, he very often remains in that district and spends his money there; but when anyone makes money in the mining districts upon which he can afford to retire, he removes right away. All the doctors and professional men in those districts never remain there after they have earned enough to live upon. The result is that the money made in those poor districts is spent elsewhere, and the rest of the people are left in the position in which poverty begets poverty.
There is something else there which does not prevail elsewhere. I am sure the Minister of Health has not appreciated the financial position of some of these local authorities, like Blaina and Nantyglo. I have yet to learn that there is a single authority in this land in the same position as that authority. In that district in 1921, there were seven collieries, and 6,000 persons employed. The population of the urban district of Blaina and Nantyglo is 16,000. For the last seven years only about 200 persons have been employed earning wages in that urban area. The rest can very well be understood. I know that there are many other mining villages in this country where all the pits are closed down; but they have not been stopped for as long a period as in the case of Blaina and Nantyglo. Being familiar with the district, I was astonished to find that, where engines used to be working, pit shafts open, and railway trucks and engines travelling along carrying coal, to-day grass has grown all over the place right up to the shafts, as if no industry had ever been carried on there, leaving the place absolutely derelict.
I am going to make a suggestion on my own account. I am sure that the Minister of Health must secure amalgamation of a district like that with a larger area. It seems to me quite obvious that the Minister has not fully realised that, in a 934 small area dependent upon a single industry, when that industry fails to function, the local authority fails to function as well. Therefore, you are bound to amalgamate the small district with a larger one. No doubt the Minister will turn round and say, "But the larger authority will not accept the smaller authority with a huge debt," and there I think the Minister will come up against the final problem as to what to do in regard to the debt that is owing by the small local authority to the Ministry. I am not conversant with finance to the extent to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) is, but I know something of local authorities. I was a member of a large authority for many years, and I am confident that, if any business firm in this land found itself in the position of the BlainaNantyglo Urban District Council, it would have been forced into bankruptcy long ago by its creditors.
This heavy debt, which is such a burden upon this small authority is actually breaking the hearts of the administrators; there is no doubt about that. When the Minister turns round and says, "See what the three men have done in Abertillery; see how they have met the case; see how they have reduced expenditure and made ends meet," I will tell him how it is done. I hope the House will pardon my mentioning it, but there is a public convenience in the main square of Abertillery, and the action of the Minister, in forcing the local authority to curtail expenditure and give their powers into the hands of these three gentlemen, has left the only public convenience in the town without any water supply. There is not enough money in the hands of what are called the three strong men of Abertillery to provide a water supply for a public convenience; and, if that is a form of administration which has to be resorted to in order to save money, I would prefer a Tory Government to get the credit of it rather than any other Government. The health of the community is bound to suffer in the end, and I feel sure that, instead of economising, it will prove very costly for all the authorities in the area.
In this Debate many suggestions have been made, and many reasons for this distress have been given; but I was happy to find that no suggestion was 935 made on any hand that these people were suffering because of an industrial dispute. I think it is well to make that clear. In the districts that I saw, not only is there no industrial dispute, but the men who are living there have reached such a state that they have practically offered to work on almost any terms whatsoever that the employers will give them. No body of workpeople can go beyond that. Suggestions have been made from time to time that there are certain theories discussed there, and revolutionary tendencies, and all the rest of it; but, unfortunately, these people are so disheartened—and I want to make this perfectly clear—that they do not want to hear any more about theories. I repeat that in some of these districts they are reduced to such a point that what is really wanted is food and clothing and better treatment from the boards of guardians. The Bedwellty Board of Guardians are appointed by the Ministry of Health, and they are precluded from giving boots and clothing to people who require them. Will the right hon. Gentleman dispute that?
§ Mr. DAVIES
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will inquire from his advisers. The information that we got, and I am sure it was correct, was that, whatever terms have been laid down by the Minister of Health to the Bedwellty appointed guardians, not a single person within that area gets either money for boots and clothing, or boots and clothing in kind. Strangely enough, in the area of the Newport Board of Guardians, where there are no appointed guardians, children of a given age can get from the guardians two pairs of boots per annum. The House ought to understand how very low the financial situation has become. The Neath Board of Guardians are quite willing, if they had the means, to provide money for boots and clothing, but they have to choose, in their own language, between the stomach and the feet. They have only so much money to spend, and they have decided in favour of the stomach. The situation is terrible in the extreme; and I think it is an insult to our civilisation to allow it to continue 936 further. I am glad to see that the Minister of Health is now in his place. He has not yet given an answer on the specific point that I tried to make. We say in our Report, of which I understand he has a copy, that in the areas of the Bedwellty and the Neath Boards of Guardians, under the restrictions laid down, either by the Minister himself or by financial restrictions, there is no provision whatsoever for boots or clothing for anybody requiring them from these two boards of guardians. The President of the Board of Education seems to think that the Bedwellty guardians are entitled to give boots and clothing—
§ Mr. DAVIES
The cash they give, when they give cash, will not provide either boots or clothing, and we understood very definitely that no cash that they gave could be spent on boots or clothing. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will enlighten us further on that point.
I now come to the training centres, and I must say that, if there was a bright spot in a dark area, it was in connection with the training centres. Hon. Members may have their own opinion as to the value of these centres, but I will put the case of the boys themselves, who know more about it than any hon. Member of this House. Every one of them to whom I spoke made this remark, "We know that we cannot be trained as carpenters and joiners, we cannot be trained as if we were in a technical institution, but the one thing that has dawned upon us is, that someone is taking kindly interest in us." That, in my opinion, is the chief value of the training centres. I came across a young man, 17 years of age, in the township of Abertillery, in one of these training centres. He had been trained to repair boots, and was earning the first ls. 3d. he had ever earned in his life by repairing a pair of boots. As has been said in many speeches in this House, the horror of the situation to me was to see young men of 17, 18, and even 19, who are willing to work, totally unable to find a job anywhere. When we come to the question of local finances, the right hon. Gentleman seems to have come to the conclusion that nothing whatever can be done except to leave the finances of these authorities just as 937 they stand. Really, that will not do. I have already indicated that the right hon. Gentleman must ease the burden on these local authorities in so far as loans are concerned, more particularly in areas like Blaina and Nantyglo, where there is no hope whatever of recovery industrially. The strange thing about that area—this is a point in favour of amalgamation with some other authority—is that there are colliery companies in Ebbw Vale actually taking coal from seams just beneath the area of Blaina and Nantyglo and bringing it up through shafts in the other valley. That point in connection with amalgamation of local authorities ought to receive consideration. Wealth in those valleys has a tendency to flow down towards the townships at the ports. It is grossly unfair that wealth produced at the top end of the valley should flow down unduly to the ports and that people who ought to contribute to the rates in those valleys should now live comfortably elsewhere. Someone spoke about sheltered trades a moment ago; and it occurred to me that we ought to devote our attention to sheltered ratepayers too. A goodly number of people are living in comfort in those places. They have made their money in these valleys, and surely the Minister of Health must see that ultimately they shall not be allowed to get rid of their responsibility as citizens by segregating themselves on the sea coast in that way, leaving these villages derelict to fend for themselves.
I know a number of people are very timid about emigration. I have seen Canada and America and a few other countries; and I have migrated myself from Wales to England. It may not have been a bad day for Wales when I came to England, whatever the English people may think. I am not afraid of migration at all provided it is done under proper conditions. Having seen those young men and women in those districts, I should dearly like to see a new Blaina and a new Nantyglo, in another country if you like, whether in England, Scotland or anywhere else, and settle them down in a community. I am sure we have got to come to that. It is not so easy to talk of taking the old folk who have built their own houses and paid for them; and the tragedy of it all is that the very thing that was a joy to 938 them 10 years ago is now a burden almost too heavy to bear. Some of them would be glad if you took the house from them and relieved them of the responsibility of paying the rates. We were told on very good authority that men and women who live on the poor rate do not like to see their relatives having a pauper's funeral; and in order to avoid it they collect money to pay for the cost of the funeral.
The report we have made is a very tiny contribution to the solution of this problem. I do not wish to blame Governments or Ministers. I should like to lift this distress out of party politics, because I am positive that when, perhaps, a youth now attending an Abertillery school comes to write the history of his boyhood days, he will not ask what Government was in power, whether Tories or Liberals or Labour men. All he will do will be to curse everyone because they neglected him. If anyone wants to see all this in its nakedness all he has to do is to go down to the district. Finally, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pay particular attention to the three points we have made—transference, the financial conditions of the local authorities, remembering all the time that the third point is urgent and cannot wait for anything else. All the schemes we propose will be of no avail whatever unless the children get boots and clothing to wear at once.
§ Lord E. PERCY
The hon. Gentleman has brought the Debate back to the high point at which it started and has emphasised that its purpose is not so much to go over the old ground we have often discussed before as to responsibility and the ultimate remedies, more especially as the ultimate remedies will require legislation and cannot properly be discussed on this occasion. The object is to emphasise that there are some things that must be done now and that the Government ought to take their responsibility in doing them. I have no hesitation in accepting that challenge on behalf of the Government. I have listened, as I am sure the House has listened, to the speeches today—I dare not say with sympathy, because that word seems to have acquired a bad meaning in our language, but with a great deal of respect, but also with 939 some alarm. It is all very well to draw the darkest possible picture of the state of things in the mining areas with a view to enforcing upon the Government their responsibility, but we are dealing with a problem which depends for its solution upon the closest co-operation between the central Government, local government, and private initiative. You may differ as to the precise proportion of responsibility, but all these three things are necessary, and exaggeration of the dimensions of the problem may easily paralyse local and private initiative.
I cannot admit that the problem is so enormous that only sweeping measures by the central Government can possibly get near a solution. We have a most serious problem to deal with, but it is of perfectly manageable dimensions. We have at our disposal, as a result of the social legislation of the last 20 years, a great machinery of government. The powerful and steady use of that machinery, its application to solve social evils, must not be mistaken for inaction. It must not be despised. That is the first thing I have to say. Broadly speaking, I believe that that machinery is sufficient to deal with the immediate problems with which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has reminded us.
May I try to give my own impression of the problem, and here I would confine myself, as the hon. Member did, and as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. MacDonald) did, to South Wales. It happens to be the problem that I know best, and in some ways, though the conditions in South Wales may not be worse, the difficulties of a solution are perhaps greater. I think any visitor to the South Wales mining area will be immediately impressed by the fact that there is no question of the community in any of these valleys regarding themselves as down-and-out. On the contrary, if you go to Aberdare, you will be promptly told by the people there: "Of course things are very bad in Rhondda, but in Aberdare we are very fortunate and are sure to come through all right." If you go to Rhondda you will be told that things are very bad in Merthyr, but that there is no doubt about the future in Rhondda, and 940 when you go to Merthyr you will receive a similar assurance—
§ Lord E. PERCY
You will receive a similar assurance at Merthyr, and you will be told that if you go to Rhondda and Blaina you will find a very different story. Broadly speaking, that is the first thing to get hold of, I think, about the South Wales situation—the tremendous local pride of these mining valleys, which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton says, are shut up to themselves, as it were, with comparatively little communication with the outside world. They have grown up as selfcentred communities, with a tremendous local pride, and, if you want to see how strong that local pride is, you have only to make that kind of proposition to them which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton, and, I think, the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) has suggested, namely, that they are practically bankrupt and should surrender their powers to another authority. I have made that suggestion in regard to education, to the Urban District of Abertillery. It is not the only authority in South Wales to which I have made that suggestion, and the reply is always the same: "We want to hold on to our powers. We do not believe that we are bankrupt. We are sure that we are going to win through." That is the feeling throughout the country.
§ Lord E. PERCY
These people do not believe that their administration has broken down, and, though there may be a great deal of undue optimism in that attitude, at any rate, it is an attitude which is admirable and to which we ought to pay tribute and to which we ought to do justice. Why is there this feeling? Partly because these areas are very selfconcentrated, shut off from the world, and partly also that they have maintained particularly high standards both of family life and public administration. They have been accustomed on the whole to higher standards than prevail in England. Take, for instance, their educational provisions. If you take all the independent local education authorities 941 from Rhondda right away to Ebbw Vale, with an average attendance of some 75,000 children—I am not including the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth—there are only 100 classes with over 50 children on the register. If you take the Part III authorities immediately around London in Middlesex, there is an average attendance of 105,000 and 350 classes with over 50 children on the register. Take the provision for secondary education. In 1926–27, if you take the proportion of leavers from the public elementary schools to the secondary schools compared with the age group of 10 to 11 in the elementary schools, you will see that in Merthyr one child in five gets to the secondary school, in Rhondda one in six and in the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth one in seven, compared with Manchester one in 10, Dewsbury one in 12, Staffordshire one in 15.
Housing in these areas is exceptionally good for industrial areas, taken as a whole, and the standards of family life are high. What is really worrying these people is, not any idea, to use the exaggerated language of a newspaper which I saw this morning, of adescent into the abyss of hopeless destitution.What is worrying these people is whether they can maintain the exceptionally high standards which they have had in the past. I hope that hon. Members opposite will not misunderstand me when I say that I sometimes feel that the real pathos of the situation there is the tragedy of an aristocracy, the aristocracy of labour, fallen on hard times. It has all the features of that kind of tragedy. They are seeking to maintain those rather exceptionally high standards of comfort and administration. On the whole, up to date, they have succeeded in maintaining that standard. When I come to deal with the question of the feeding of school children and the provision of boots, I shall be able to show that the standard has, on the whole, been maintained fairly well throughout these mining areas.
It has been maintained thanks very largely to the help of the central Government. Hon. Members opposite talk about the indebtedness of these areas to the Ministry of Health, as if the Minister of Health were a kind of Shylock, who was preventing their revival. The 942 Minister of Health by these loans has carried them through the hardest times. Remember the history of the case! Before the coal strike, the indebtedness to the Ministry of Health of the whole of these two geographical counties was £562,000. That was for three unions alone. After the stoppage it had risen to £2,130,000; and now all but two of these unions are repaying the debt either to the banks or the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health has tided them over the worst time. Take the question of the maintenance of educational standards. What is the situation in all these valleys? The Board of Education, by reason of its necessitous areas grant, is bearing 80 per cent. of the expenditure within a certain limit. If any authority begins the feeding of school children today the Board would pay over 60 per cent. of that expenditure and, therefore, there is no reason for me to say, as the hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence) wanted me to say—
§ Lord E. PERCY
There is no rationing at all. If any extra teacher is engaged by any local authority, 80 per cent. of his salary is paid by the Board of Education. No one can deny that the central government in this way is giving enormous help to these areas in the maintenance of these higher standards of public administration. Let me remind hon. Members who have spoken about the financial position of these authorities and the possibility of amalgamation, that in the case of Abertillery I made a general offer that if they would consider coming in with the county I would consider making financial arrangements which would facilitate their transfer. That is the kind of help which the Government are extending to these areas. Now we come to the question of remedies. As the hon. Member for Westhoughton has said, we cannot discuss the question of the incidence of rates and a good many of the possibilities by which help can be provided; but they are in our minds. With regard to the actual recommendations made by the representatives of the party opposite who made their inquiry the other day, the fundamental recommendation they made was with regard to transfer. I do not want to repeat what has been already said on that subject, except to say that hon. 943 Members must not think, and no one outside must think, that this transfer can be carried out purely by Government aid. You can do a great deal by getting boys into the juvenile unemployment centres and giving them a certain amount of training; and we are doing a great deal in that way.
To anyone who asks how this transfer is going to take place and what the Transfer Board is going to do I say this, do not let us forget the obvious. The outstanding economic fact in the labour market at the present moment is that during the next two or three years we shall pass through a period of a very great shortage of juvenile labour. That will give an opportunity for transfer from over-populated areas, such as there has never been before. We must appreciate the possibilities of that idea. It is not a thing which can be done by Government agency alone. I must now say something about these Welsh mining valleys which I hope will not offend any representative from that part of the world. The hon. Member for Westhoughton has already referred to their isolation. They are almost incredibly isolated and incredibly remote from the rest of the country. How have their schools been staffed? This is the side of the question which I come across first. It has been for generations almost the custom, in most of these areas, to send a certain number of students from the secondary schools to the training college or the university. They get their certificates, and they return to the same areas, and probably teach in the same schools in which they were originally brought up. This isolation of the valleys has all contributed to shut off education, as it were, from outside influences. Teachers in schools in any other part of Great Britain would be in touch with the Employment Exchanges and would advise their pupils as to opportunities, perhaps not in that immediate area, but in towns a little distant—would advise them what trade they should enter, and so on. In these valleys, though things are improving, they are almost confined to the alternatives, "Go to the mines or become a teacher." I do not say that that is quite the situation to-day. Teachers are very anxious to be able to put their pupils in 944 outside trades, but there is now a great opportunity of getting a far closer and more practical connection between the teacher and the Employment Exchange than there has ever been before. That is one of the things on which we ought to concentrate.
That is the kind of atmosphere. That is one of the difficulties of transfer. It is almost incredible to think that it has been my experience to have the head of a school—I shall not say what type of school—say to me that he had pupils who were really good craftsmen at this or that trade, but that he had not any idea as to how to place them outside the valley, in which there was no market for their labour. That bringing of the Employment Exchange machinery, as it were, into the schools and into every type of educational institution in these areas, is one of the biggest things that educational administrators or anyone else can do at the present time. So much for transfer. I shall not go into that further. I now want to come to the two points which concern my Department particularly—two points, the first of which is as to the maintenance of health and general conditions of life during the period that we are working out a more fundamental solution of this problem. The right hon. Member for Aberavon criticised us for having only just appointed a Committee and sent it down to South Wales, and he produced a Report drawn up by the hon. Member for Westhoughton and West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) as if it were the first Report that had ever been drawn up on this subject. I would remind the House, however, that I was asked a question before Christmas about the health of the children in South Wales, and in answer to that question I undertook to send my inspectors specially to South Wales to look into the health of the children. I did that about Christmas or the New Year. My inspectors paid two visits and took sample inspections all through Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Yes. I have been waiting ever since then to have some questions from the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Barker) or some other hon. Member as to the results of my investigation but I have not had them. I 945 think I am justified, however, in reminding the House that the Government took action in this matter some time ago. As some hon. Members know, I followed up those inquiries by paying a flying visit myself in which I did my best to get the atmosphere. What was the result of those inquiries? The percentage of malnutrition among school children varies enormously from area to area. I am now taking the result of sample inspections, and I do not pretend that this is representative of all the children under each authority. It was found that the percentage varied from.6 per cent. in Ebbw Vale to 10½ per cent. in Blaina, while Rhondda, for instance, was about 4 per cent. That range, even the 10½ per cent., can be duplicated in certain schools in many industrial areas in this country and probably can be duplicated on occasion even in London itself. There is not only a great variation between areas, but a great variation between individual schools in the same area. For instance, one school in Merthyr had 10 per cent. and another 3 per cent., and so on, but it is perfectly clear that at the present moment neither the average rate of malnutrition among the children in South Wales, nor the range of malnutrition percentages, from the fairly good areas to the black spots—even when you take the peak malnutrition figure in the worst spot—neither the average nor the peak, differs from what you can find in industrial areas generally in this country.
It is not at present an exceptional condition. It is not in that sense, and that is the sense in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health used the expression earlier, a disquieting condition. But I am convinced that it will need very careful watching and I intend to watch it very carefully. There is danger about a situation of this kind. There is especially danger in Blaina and Nantyglo where depression is not a question of 1926 or 1925 or 1924, but where it has been going on for the last eight years or more. There is always the danger where you have that situation that you will get a more or less sudden break in health, and, from that point of view, it needs and will receive very careful watching. I want to go a little further. If feeding is needed in those areas, it is feeding on a strictly selective basis, 946 on medical certificate. The difficulty which is felt by the local authorities in these areas is certainly not any rationing by the Board of Education, of which the hon. Lady spoke. There is no such rationing. It is probably not any fear of cost to the rates, which will probably not be very great.
The difficulty of the local authorities is the fear that, once feeding starts, it will be claimed as a measure of general application for all children, and, if I may say so, that kind of impression tends to be strengthened when one listens to a speech like that of the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John). "What we demand is not charity, but justice," he said. "It is the fault of the Government that we are in this position, and therefore, we demand feeding, mainly out of Government funds, for our children." On that basis this situation can never be dealt with. That simply means that local authorities will be terrified of going in for feeding on any considerable scale for fear of the general demand for indiscriminate feeding, and there is no doubt that whatever feeding is necessary or may be recommended in the future must be that strictly selective feeding on medical certificate. If hon. Members opposite will join in laying that down quite clearly, then the problem, as I say, is one of manageable dimensions, and we shall be able to handle it, I believe, without serious difficulty.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
Will the Noble Lord say whether he agrees with what has been the decision of the guardians, to reduce the relief to the family by the 2s. a week where the school feeding takes place, because the education authorities that we came across themselves very strongly objected to that?
§ Lord E. PERCY
It is not, I think, in the first place, 2s. a week. The most I have ever heard of is 1s.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I really think it is 1s., but that is a question which I cannot answer, because it is not the business either of myself or of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. Even he cannot lay down what the guardians shall or shall not do, and even the appointed guardians have different policies on that matter. I know the difficulty, and I appreciate it, but there again I think 947 I can go as far as to say that my impression is that the consideration in the minds of the guardians themselves—because this does not apply only to appointed guardians—is the fear of indiscriminate feeding. If it were once laid down quite clearly, and quite clearly adopted and recognised by the whole population, that the most that was wanted was strictly selective feeding of a few children, such as goes on, after all, year in, year out, in London, I believe that even that difficulty in the problem might be surmounted, although, as I say, I have no authority for saying that, because the central Government in such a matter does not control the policy of the local guardians.
But the main reason why this feeding problem is a problem which is easily handled and is a manageable problem is that the whole of the family budgets in these areas has been going on food. Here let me say, in reply to a question about the Bedwellty Board of Guardians, that it is not the fact that the Bedwellty Board of Guardians do not give relief in cash, and it is not the fact that the cash which they give has any restrictive condition about buying boots. I will give the actual figures for one week. For the week ending 17th March, they paid out £796 in cash and £321 in kind.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I think it does apply to the relief given by the guardians to the able-bodied and their families. They do not give anything except food tickets in those cases.
§ Lord E. PERCY
I do not think that even that is correct. There is no qualification of that kind in the general statement which the hon. Member put in his Report, and he might perhaps reconsider that passage and get the actual information; of course, the Government will be glad to help him in clearing up the actual details. The hon. Lady the Member for East Ham North is wrong in supposing that this boot problem has arisen since the change in the policy of the Bedwellty Guardians. The family budgets were always devoted, and especially now, wholly to food, and in times of industrial depression the provision of boots to necessitous children was constantly dealt with by funds raised by teachers locally. It is very largely because of that local charitable assistance that the family 948 budget has been able to be devoted to food; and there is no doubt that recently local sources of charity and help have been drying up owing to the prolonged depression, and that outside help is needed. There is, also, no doubt that outside help has been forthcoming. The hon. Member for Westhoughton really ought not to say that the trouble about the Welsh mining areas is that nobody takes any notice. To my certain knowledge, at least £8,000 of private money from outside has gone in the provision of boots in Glamorgan and Monmouth during the last three or four months.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon and other hon. Members make kind references to the fact that, owing to the generosity of some friends, I myself handled a small part of that money. I am rather sorry that he referred to it, because I did it for the purpose of seeing how far money, quietly raised in that way and distributed through the Directors of Education and the teachers, could go towards solving or alleviating this problem, and I think that my experience again justifies me in saying that this is a perfectly manageable problem. Hon. Members opposite have talked an occasions about the terrific problem of providing boots for these children. Take what has actually happened in a given mining area. Take the valley in which Aberdare, Mountain Ash and Pontypridd are situated. To my knowledge, quite comparatively modest sums have sufficed in the last few weeks to provide boots for 75 per cent. of the necessitous children in Aberdare and Mountain Ash, and a considerable number in Pontypridd. Boot repairing centres have been started at Pontypridd and Aberdare, and could have been started at Mountain Ash whenever they were ready to start. The Labour report does not claim that in Monmouthshire there is more than 10 per cent. of the children needing boots. There is not a greater percentage than that in any area in South Wales. Certainly, if you take 10 per cent. of the total average attendance of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire you would be very safe in saying that there were not more than between 10,000 and 20,000 children who at this moment are in need of boots.
Hon. Members opposite have criticised the Minister of Health for saying that this was a subject for private charity. It 949 was the only thing which he did say was a subject for private charity, and the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvonshire (Major Owen), who said my right hon. Friend's solution of that problem of the industrial areas was to pass the hat round, was really drawing the bow even longer than Members on those benches usually do. I agree with my right hon. Friend that this question of boots is a question which is primarily one for private charity. I say that for this reason, among others, that, after all, we have a great deal of experience in this matter. When the question was raised during the stoppage of 1926, for instance, people used to say, "Shall we raise a county fund for boots for the school children?" and generally when the teachers were asked they said, "Please do not do that. We have got our own clientele. We can raise the money to supply the boots to any children who are really in need, but if there is once a question of a county found with a county education committee behind it, you will get parents coming to us and saying they will not send their children to school unless boots are provided, and so on."
If you had Government or public funds for these purposes, it would give people the impression that the whole weight of the Government was behind such a provision, and you would get the same thing in the matter of boots as is feared by the local authorities in the matter of feeding. You would get a demand for indiscriminate distribution, and I am quite sure that for the present, at any rate, private funds can meet the need if they are properly appealed for and properly co-ordinated. They have got to be appealed for outside South Wales, and the money has got to be obtained outside the distressed areas themselves, although there is still a good deal of money which can be raised in the distressed areas for these purposes, as hon. Members opposite know. A good many such funds are on foot already, and the only thing I want to say on this subject is that I do hope all the funds raised for these purposes will be distributed in consultation with the directors or secretaries of education and the teachers, because that is the only channel through which you can really get a proper distribution to meet the need of the most necessitous of the school children.
950 Those are the ways in which the immediate and pressing problem can be met. I say again, that because those ways involve the careful and continuous working of a great established machinery, inspection of your schools and of your maternity and welfare institutions, school feeding properly organised where necessary under a medical certificate, organisation of funds for boots and clothing and so on—because those things are part of your ordinary social machinery, do not think that the proper working of that machinery is any the less necessary or any the less worthy of the name of statesmanship. You will not necessarily do more good, you will not necessarily keep more children from ill-health, by starting new machinery, by embarking perhaps upon rather fussy schemes which look well in the shop window but which may not do as much as the well-tried machinery which it is the prime responsibility of the Ministers of the Crown to use and to use well and to use together. So far as I am concerned, I recognise, what the hon. Member for Westhoughton has said, that the chief feeling in these areas is that they are left alone, always rather shut out from the outside world, and they are prone to think that nobody cares. If personal attention to the situation in this and other distressed areas can make the wheels of our established social machinery, the machinery of social administration, work more swiftly and more smoothly, I can assure the House that I will give that personal attention, and I feel sure there is no real reason to be afraid that if we act in this manner the health or the future of the rising generation will seriously suffer owing to these times of distress.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.